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Book Review of "History's Great Untold Stories" by Joseph Cummins

Updated on February 11, 2013

A never-to-be-missed book

The Cover of History's Great Untold Stories (Photo Source: Ireno Alcala)
The Cover of History's Great Untold Stories (Photo Source: Ireno Alcala)

Joseph Cummins: A Historian and A-1 Chronicler

While perusing the mini-library of my cousin, I came upon the striking title of a soft-cover book entitled: HISTORY'S GREAT UNTOLD STORIES (Obscure Events of Lasting Importance) by Joseph Cummins.

The book is an ideal reference and a surprisingly, table book for bookworms, young and old, who are interested in trailing back to the tumultuous past of mankind.

Working for the National Geographic, the American writer was able to collate huge data from the archives of different libraries around the world, manuscripts that bared all the necessary facts that should be included in this book.

The unfamiliarity of the events, as it were super-ceded by more famous people, make the book more interesting to read.

Reading is a very productive hobby. You can travel by just staying at home.

Travel Man, selecting a book to read (Photo Source: Ireno Alcala)
Travel Man, selecting a book to read (Photo Source: Ireno Alcala)

The author-historian, Joseph Cummins

Joseph Cummins (Photo Source:
Joseph Cummins (Photo Source:

Let's read the book, chapter by chapter.

What do you know about the following?

  1. The Cadaver Synod: The Most Controversial Trial in History
  2. Portrait in Courage:The Leper King of Jerusalem,
  3. Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan's Greatest Strategist
  4. Rabban Sauma: The Marco Polo of the East
  5. When China Ruled the Waves: The Treasures Fleet (The Chinese Treasure Fleet of Xuan He)
  6. The Shot that Echoed Through the Centuries (About William the 1st of Orange)
  7. The Shimabara Uprising and the Disappearance of Japan
  8. Roger Williams (of Providence Plantation, not the singer): Father of American Civil Liberties
  9. The Battle of Poltava and the Fall of the Swedish Empire
  10. Vitus Bering and the Russian Discovery of Alaska
  11. A Legend of Freedom: Francisco Dagohoy and the Rebels of Bohol,
  12. Pioneering Peaceful Protest: The British Abolition Movement,
  13. David Thompson, North America's Greatest Geographer,
  14. George Augustus Robinson, The Great Conciliator of Van Dieman's Land (or Tasmania. I thought it was Australia. I was wrong.)

These are just the part of twenty one chapters that will make you get hooked with the book.

I painstakingly read the details of each chapter, although it's not in chronological order of importance.

I was surprised that Mr. Cummins also featured the Bohol Revolt, where Dagohoy and his followers were the last rebel groups who surrendered to the American forces.Of course, here in the Philippines, that chapter in our history was one of the hottest topics whenever our living grandfathers talked about the war, especially World War II.

One thing that Mr. Cummins have missed, there were Japanese soldier who hid themselves in many caves in IloIlo at Visayan region. One believed that it was still the period of the war, but due to the plea of the media and interpreters who visited their shelter, most of them surrendered and were sent back to Japan.

Note: My warning is that you can take a rest, every time you read a chapter. Your eyes will get blurry as you cannot stop unveiling those hidden facts that are eluding the present generation.

It's good to know that I stumbled on this book, from my cousin's collection.

The dramatic rendition of Pope Formosus trial

Painting in oil by French artist Jean-Paul Laurens (Photo Source: National Geographic through the book of Joseph Cummins)
Painting in oil by French artist Jean-Paul Laurens (Photo Source: National Geographic through the book of Joseph Cummins)

The Cadaver Synod: The Most Controversial Trial in History

The introduction of the book is very intriguing and my next move saw me too engrossed with the so-called posthumous trial. Even the dead can be exhumed, if the accuser will direct the authorities to dig up the cadaver of the dead who is being accused.

What is most controversial with the proceeding was that the present Pope accused the dead Pope of violating the regulations of Catholic Church.

Pope Formosus I was the accused, who reigned from 891 to 896. He was a successful missionary in Bulgaria and a diplomat in Constantinople (Turkey).

He was elected as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church at the age of 76.

In May 986, when he died, Stephen VI (VII) was elected as his successor. Due to some influential families who were opposing the reign of Pope Formosus, his successor was able to call for of "judges", from the group of bishops who supported him to exhume the cadaver of the deceased church leader.

The horrifying scene was depicted on the book, The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning, "that the great door of the Church of St. John Lateran flew wide open",as the corpse of Formosus was seated on a chair, complete with papal vestment (the voice was acted by a young deacon).

Pope Stephen accused Formosus of three crimes. The first one was the in-admittance that the dead didn't reveal that he was already a bishop, the second -ambition to seek the papacy, and third - violating the church canon.

As if an omen, there was a violent earthquake during the trial that nearly destroyed the church. But Pope Stephen still insisted to convict the dead pope on all counts.

Due to this unpopularity, and as the Catholic Church almost omitted this incident in many history book in school, I almost forgot that this event existed.

Posthumous execution were also performed in various parts of Europe. To mention a few, the Englishman John Wyclif (c.1330-84) was dug up and burnt as a heretic twelve years after his death. The warlord Vlad-the Impaler was beheaded following his assassination in 1476. He was also the source of the Dracula myth.

The Taiping force in Beijing in 1853

A panel in a series of 10 paintings recording the retreat and defeat of Taiping force, annihilated by the Qing forces in 1855 (Photo Source: National Geographic)
A panel in a series of 10 paintings recording the retreat and defeat of Taiping force, annihilated by the Qing forces in 1855 (Photo Source: National Geographic)

Taiping Rebellion

Page 194 got me intrigued.

"The Taiping Rebellion, a peasant uprising that occurred in mid 19th century China, involved more combatants than any other war in the 19th century, killed more people that any other conflict apart from World War II (estimates range from 20 million to 40 million)...and changed the future of an entire country. Yet very few people outside of China have ever heard of it. Nor do many know of its messianic leader, Hong Xiuquan, who claimed to have had an apocalyptic vision that revealed he was Jesus Christ's younger brother."

The fanaticism or the cult-like or blind following at certain religious affiliation during those times were revived by some religious sects who committed mass suicides that happened in many parts of the world.

But that rebellion paved the way to the start of Communism in mainland China. Mao Zedong learnt a great deal with the Taiping revolution. Why? No doubt about the fact that Mao was also a Hakka, the ethnic group where Hong came from.

After he took control of China, he ordered the construction of Hong Xiuquan's former Residence Memorial Museum at Guangdong province.

It is now a popular tourist attraction of Hong's birthplace, who claimed to be the brother of Jesus Christ.

The other half of the book

15. William Walker: American President of Nicaragua

16. The Taiping Revolution: The Second-Worst Conflict in History

17. John Wesley and the Shaping of the American West

18. Guano Happens: How the World was Changed by Bird Droppings

19. The Last Amazons: The Fighting Women of Dahomey

20. Bringing the Irish War to America: The Story of John Devoy

21. Queen Min and the Battle to Save Korea

22. The Extermination of the Herero: The First Modern Genocide

23. Containing an Epidemic: The San Francisco Plague

24. Soghomon Tehlirian: Blessed Assassin of the Armenian Nation

25. William Beebe and Otis Barton: Explorers of the Deep

26. Nazis in Tibet: The Search for the Origin of the Aryan Race

27. The Malayan Emergency: A Lesson Not Learnt

28. When the World wasn't Looking; The Death of the Mexican Counterculture

The last half of the book is equally engaging as it featured the existence of the fighting women in Africa and the murder of Queen Min in Korea by the Japanese invaders.

The often ignored bird droppings or guano also played important roles in agricultural production in the UK, USA and other progressive countries in Europe. They even kidnapped Asian laborers (specially Chinese) in order to work at the deadly sites of the droppings.

The most hateful people during the German invasion was the Jewish people. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler claimed that they belonged to the superior race called Aryan. So, the search for the Aryans extended to Asian continent, especially in Tibet, where they suspected that their race truly dwelt.

The new frontier in science dealt with the mysterious creatures of the deep. The new age of ocean photography was initiated by William Beebe and Otis Barbin.

There are many historical facts that we've missed in our classroom lectures and discussion. We just have to dig those articles compiled by National Geographic.

Note:Now that we are in the surge of technological advancement, especially the net, we cannot deny the fact that the conventional edition of books are being replaced by eBook versions. Books are bulky but it will also last for a long period of time. as long as it is well-taken care of.


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    • travel_man1971 profile imageAUTHOR

      Ireno Alcala 

      5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @Sandyspider: Thank you for being impressed. It's really a good read and it opened my eyes to the true history of this world.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      This is very impressive with the books.

    • travel_man1971 profile imageAUTHOR

      Ireno Alcala 

      5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @OldWitchcraft: The obvious reason for the ommission of such chapters in most history books is that those featured events are more popular that the ones included in this book.

      If it's included on more popular books, they'll just mentioned it but will not elaborate it, like what happened to Pope Formosus' Synod Trial.

    • travel_man1971 profile imageAUTHOR

      Ireno Alcala 

      5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @Pennypines: Thank you for noticing my effort. While writing this, I felt an urge to share some chapters, the most controversial ones, in order to draw more interested readers, if they're going to read it, like I did or just surf the net in order to know more about the author.

      Either of the two, they will surely discover other books of Mr. Cummins that will suit their interests.

    • travel_man1971 profile imageAUTHOR

      Ireno Alcala 

      5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @billybuc: Yes, Sir Bill! J. Cummins' books are very interesting to read. His way of storytelling will get you hooked and I think, his staff worked so hard to come up with never-heard compilation of almost forgotten episodes in the history of this world and mankind.

    • travel_man1971 profile imageAUTHOR

      Ireno Alcala 

      5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @wetnosedogs: You better buy it now. I can't wait to buy my own. My cousin didn't want me to bring it at home. :)

    • travel_man1971 profile imageAUTHOR

      Ireno Alcala 

      5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @carol7777: Thanks for the earliest reaction I can read on my site, especially on this hub.

      Gone are the days when I was interested more in reading make-believe stories.

      Now, I know that the truth about our existence are coming into the open as we search for the hidden episodes of man's struggles on this planet.

    • OldWitchcraft profile image


      5 years ago from The Atmosphere

      This sounds like a really interesting book.

      The official history is a lie - that's the only thing that's certain about it.

      Accolades and voted up!

    • Pennypines profile image

      Lucille Apcar 

      5 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

      As my grandmother, Diana Agabeg Apcar once wrote "Our experience of the world tells us that two thirds of written history is nothing but a lie". We could add to that and say most true history remains unwritten. And if they are put into written word, too many are ignored. Such is the way of the world. Thank you for a fine HUB

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      That would be a very interesting book to read. Thank you for the review.

    • wetnosedogs profile image


      5 years ago from Alabama

      What a great find when you came upon this book.

      Interesting review.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      Lots of stuff here I had not a clue about. You presented the material well now I just have to get out and read some of this. Thanks for a great hub as always. Voting up and sharing.


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