Book review: History, mystery and the meaning of life with Michael O’Mara Books

Imagine waking up every day to a momentous historical event, digging into the weird world of language or learning to think like Einstein.

Wednesday, 15th October 2014, 10:00 am
On this day in history
On this day in history

All these amazing scenarios are possible with a colourful autumn collection of quirky, informative and entertaining books from lively independent publishing house Michael O’Mara.

With a growing reputation for producing original, educational and enjoyable books, Michael O’Mara’s new round-up is a gift for fact-seekers, history fans, self-improvers… and those who simply want to find the perfect Christmas gift.

On This Day in History by Graeme Donald

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History never fails to amaze us… and so too do the coincidences that it throws up.

Take the fateful date of June 28 1914, the day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Serbia and set in motion the events that would lead to the First World War. Five years later, to the day, the momentous Treaty of Versailles was signed bringing a formal ending to a terrible conflict.

On This Day in History, a book packed with history’s incredible interconnecting facts and figures, provides a year’s worth of entertainment with a page devoted to all 365 days.

Author Graeme Donald gives short, riveting entries on the most significant events that occurred on that day, providing a history lesson in bite-size chunks guaranteed to entertain as well as educate.

Discover on which day down the centuries the abandoned Mary Celeste was mysteriously found drifting in the mid-Atlantic, Mozart was buried in an unmarked communal grave and Prohibition in America is brought to an end.

On one single day Alexander the Great cosies up to Winston Churchill and Fidel Castro, and the legendary Egyptian Queen Cleopatra finds herself sharing a page with Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.

The ninth of March saw the marriage of Napoleon and Josephine in 1796, the founding of the French Foreign Legion in 1831 and the launch of the Barbie doll in 1959.

From the big stories such as Mandela walking to freedom on February 11 1990, to quirkier events like the banana going on sale in London on April 10 1633, there are intriguing stories, juicy snippets of trivia and long-forgotten facts.

So open a page, pick a date and traverses continents and timelines for a unique perspective on history and a peep into the most curious corners of our past.

(Michael O’Mara, hardback, £12.99)

A History of the World in Numbers by Emma Marriott

Think of a number… and then discover how it links the past to the present.

Emma Marriott has been trawling through the records and archives to explore how the history of our world can be told through numbers.

Numbers, we learn from this informative book, can illuminate the broad sweep of history, from vast movements of populations and the expansion of empires to the effects of technological achievements or climate change.

And small numbers are just as revealing, allowing us to drill into the real detail of history, from the cost and time it took to produce the Gutenberg Bible – the West’s first mass-produced book – to the price of Virginian tobacco in the 1620s, both of which had a lasting effect on the course of history.

Making number comparisons is just as enlightening. Consider the fact that Spartan women in ancient Greece owned 40 per cent of the land and yet in today’s world women own only ten per cent.

Equally staggering is the revelation that in 25 years Genghis Khan, the founder of the mighty Mongol Empire, conquered more of the Earth’s surface than the Roman Empire managed in 400 years.

And, just occasionally, numbers have the power to blow our minds. For example, in 2003 US research showed that one in every 200 men living on the planet today shares genetic material from a single male from around 900 years ago… and that man was probably Genghis Khan!

Each statistic provides a starting point for a quirky chunk of information whether it’s the 2.5 million blocks used to build the Great Pyramid at Giza, the average life expectancy of an 18th century worker in Dudley in the West Midlands or the number of Brodie helmets issued in the First World War.

A History of the World in Numbers spans the early civilizations, from the plains of Mesopotamia and the Indus Empire right through to the modern day, shining a light on a wide variety of events and topics.

The perfect gift for the Christmas countdown…

(Michael O’Mara, hardback, £9.99)

How to Think Like Einstein by Daniel Smith

It’s all in the mind… yes, you don’t have to be a genius to start thinking like Einstein.

Best known as the creator of the world’s most famous equation, E=mc2, Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity challenged centuries of received wisdom dating back to Sir Isaac Newton.

Without his groundbreaking work in relativity and quantum physics, our knowledge of the cosmos might lag decades behind where it is today. Einstein’s ability to simultaneously see the universe as a whole and in infinite detail helped define the direction of science through to the present day and won him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.

Daniel Smith’s inspirational and absorbing book invites us to explore Einstein’s unique approach to solving the great scientific mysteries of his age by tracing the disparate ideas and influences that helped shape his personality and outlook – for better or worse.

By decoding Einstein’s approach to tackling problems, Smith reveals how we too can learn to apply the same methods and practices to all areas of our lives.

Because Einstein was not only an extraordinary scientific thinker; he was a humanitarian who detested war and tried to stem the proliferation of destructive weapons which his work had in part made possible.

He spent a lifetime fighting authoritarianism and promoting personal freedom, selflessly standing up to those who posed a threat to those ideals. He believed nothing was immune to reappraisal and possessed an unfaltering belief in the individual’s right to freedom of though and spirit.

Smith also shows us Einstein as a man of caustic wit, a bona fide superstar, instantly recognisable to millions who had not the least understanding of the intricacies of his scientific theories. Even now, the image of the ‘mad professor’ with the wild hair, poking out his tongue at the camera, is familiar across the globe.

A fascinating study of a complex personality… and a touch of genius when it comes to brain training.

(Michael O’Mara, hardback, £12.99)

There Are Tittles in This Title by Mitchell Symons

How many of us know that at some point in our lives we have been forced to do a bit of scurryfungeing?

Scurryfunge – a hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbour and the time she knocks on the door – is just one of the gloriously offbeat words dug out of dictionary corner by word wizard Mitchell Symons.

His quaintly named new book There Are Tittles in This Title (a tittle is a dot above the ‘i’) is bursting with truly oddball facts about words and language, and will have both grammarians and non-grammarians hooked from the very first page.

For starters, did you know that ‘almost’ is the longest word in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order, that ‘stewardesses’ is the longest word you can type solely with your left hand or that fireflies aren’t flies, they’re beetles?

How many of us are aware that the hole in a shirt or jumper through which we put our hand and arm is an ‘armsate’ or that the term ‘smart Alec’ derives from an 1840s thief called Alex Hoag who sneakily stole from his prostitute wife’s clients?

‘Red letter days’ date back to the early church almanacs when religious festivals and saints’ days were specially printed in red ink, ‘the cold shoulder’ or, more specifically, cold shoulder of mutton was served instead of hot meat as a hint to unwanted visitors and ‘the brush off’ was the cursory clothes brushing given by hotel porters to bad-tipping guests.

From information about words and their uses, useful lists of things you never knew had names to palindromes, famous lines from literature and film, and hilarious exam answers, this is a treasure trove of wacky words, phenomenal phrases and extravagant expressions.

A tongue-twisting mix of language, facts and fun.

(Michael O’Mara, hardback, £9.99)