The Bookworm Sez: Book filled with fascinating historical nuggets

Was your old high school history teacher wrong?

You can’t imagine so; she taught you all about World Wars I and II, America’s past, and British history. But could you have missed something? What don’t you know? Was your high school history teacher wrong or, as in “When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank” by Giles Milton (c.2016, Picador, $15, 272 pages), was history merely hidden?

Say you’re looking in your cupboard for a plate, when you stumble across a china cup you’ve never seen before. Something similar happened to Giles Milton while he was researching one thing and found something else. History, he learned, is full of those little “historical nuggets.”

Take, for instance, when Winston Churchill explored the possibility of using biological weapons against the Nazis. He couldn’t, of course, experiment on humans, so he tried his methods on sheep. What happened affected an island off the coast of Scotland for the next 45 years.

And then there’s the Chevalier d’Eon, who was very much involved in espionage and politics for several countries in the late 1700s. As much as the Chevalier changed jobs, gender was also scandalously changed until few knew the truth. The Chevalier finally had herself legally declared female by French courts; it was only when she died that the truth was finally revealed.

Murder with a twist also shows up in this book: Italian Count Francesco Cenci fell to his death from a rickety balcony in September 1598, but his “accident” was no accident. Investigators learned that the count was killed before he fell, and everyone involved (or not-so-involved) was executed for it, including the Count’s daughter. The “winner”? Pope Clement VIII, who took the family’s assets because, as he pointed out, there were no heirs left.

Here, you’ll read about a Bermuda Triangle mystery and a mountain-climbing tragedy. Learn about a feral child, who probably wasn’t so wild. There’s a wolf-beast here, a woman who tricked a sultan, one man who broke into Auschwitz, and two who broke out. Read about Thomas Jefferson’s slave-caretaker; Nazi Germany’s Lebensborn; and an experiment that’s shocking, almost a century after a Russian scientist tried it …

Cocktail chatter is not your thing, and small talk — ugh. You don’t need a gigantic book to keep you occupied, either but yet, you want to be entertained. That’s when to find “When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank.”

Fans of oddities and lovers of history alike will devour the factlets that author Giles Milton offers in this second volume of “nuggets.” There’s something for everyone in this book, from ancient secrets to modern intrigue; African American history to art; rumor, cryptozoology, and more. Best of all, each chapter is short and completely readable when you’ve only got a few minutes to spare.

Here’s a book you can give to Grandpa, and borrow back. It’s great for a teen who loves quick, informative reads. And if you think you might like “When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank,” too, well, you won’t be wrong.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at

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