In Search of Myths and Heroes, by
Michael Wood, BBC Books £18.99.
ISBN – 0563521872
Where ancient history ends and ancient
myth begins has been the source of intrigue
all over the world for centuries. Legends
have grown as the original story gets retold
and passed down from generation to
generation, producing a more mysterious
and mystical tale only distantly linked to
the historical facts.
Wood is on a quest to find out why
people are still so captivated by these myths
and to trace their paths from when they
began through into today’s world. He seeks
to find historical links in real places and in
living descendants of the ancient cultures
that produced these stories.
His book takes us on four adventures in
pursuit of three heroes and one heroine, which
are described as ‘a paradise myth, a tale of the
hero’s quest, a myth of a woman of power,
and a chivalric romance about a golden age.’
We follow the famous myths of Shangri-La,
Jason and the Golden Fleece, the Queen of
Sheba and King Arthur and The Holy Grail.
We are taken firstly to the Western
Himalayas, exploring the truth of the legend
of the hidden valley of Shangri-La – a lost
paradise in Tibet, where time and history
have been held back, peace prevails and
the ancient wisdoms are preserved for
The oldest myth, Jason and the Golden
Fleece, is ultimately a tale of a sea voyage,
a bid to explore beyond the edge of the
known world. It follows the expedition
of Jason and the Argonauts, who sailed
from Greece across the Black Sea to find
the Golden Fleece.
Next he follows the legend of the Queen
of Sheba, who is documented in the Jewish
and Christian Bible, the Ethiopian Book of
Kings and the Muslim Koran, and leads us
on a long journey from Jerusalem to the
Horn of Africa.
Lastly, Wood visits the British Isles in
search of the truth behind the legend of
King Arthur, the Knights of the Round
Table and the Holy Grail. From Hadrian’s
Wall to Winchester and across to Ireland,
he unravels the legend of King Arthur.
Illustrated with excellent photographs,
this book makes fascinating reading.
The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones,
America and the Story of Golf
by Mark Frost, published by Little
Brown, £20. ISBN 0316726915|
In the wake of the 1929 stock market crash,
an amateur golfer brought a ray of light to
the world of sports. The Bobby Jones story is
a remarkable one and Mark Frost’s engaging
prose does justice to a man who stood like a
colossus over the American sporting scene.
He is the only individual to have been
recognised with two ticker tape parades
down Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes. Jones’
greatest achievement was winning the
British Amateur Championship, the British
Open, the US Open and the US Amateur
Championship in 1930. A new phrase was
born: The Grand Slam.
This book is at its most interesting when
delving into the man behind the trophies.
Jones barely survived his sickly childhood
and took up golf at the age of five for
Remarkably, the self-taught player made
his US Amateur Championship debut at the
age of 14. Modest and sensitive, he also had
a legendary temper, which he slowly
learned to control before harnessing his
Indeed, while the media referred to him as
a ‘golfing machine’ the strain of competition
exacted a ferocious toll on his physical and
emotional well-being. During the season of
the Slam, he constantly battled exhaustion,
nearly lost his life twice and came perilously
close to a total collapse.
To the shock of a nation, he announced
his retirement from the game at the age of 28.
Golfing enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy the
book, but because the story of the Grand
Slam, by its very title, requires in-depth
accounts of the multiple golf tournaments,
those with a lesser interest in the game may
struggle. Nevertheless, this is an excellent
book of golf history.
The Living Unknown Soldier –
A True Story of Grief and the
Great War by Jean-Yves Le Naour,
published by Heinemann, £15.99.
Extraordinary as it sounds, of the 1.5 million
Frenchmen who died in the First World War,
some 400,000 were categorised as ‘missing’
because their bodies could not be found.
Such horrendous figures not only bear
testament to the terrible potency of the
weapons they faced, but to the trauma
suffered by families back home.
It is not surprising that many widows
(there were 630,000 in France alone) lived in
desperate hope that their ‘missing’ loved ones
were perhaps POWs or hospital casualties in
Germany. When the war ended their hopes
were all too often dashed.
This is the story of a soldier with no
memory of his name or past, no identifying
possessions, marks or documents. He was
given the name Anthelme Mangin.
When the authorities placed his image in
advertisements, thousands of people claimed
him as a son, husband or brother in a
desperate bid to believe their loved one
was still alive.
Confusion mounted as hordes of people
wanted to visit him in the Rodez asylum.
Mangin’s cause became symptomatic of
the post-war suffering and trauma faced
by France’s public. The asylum director,
Feynarou, had the disturbing task of
facing Mangin’s claimants and evaluating
By the early 1930s, two contenders
remained. One was Lucie Lemay, who was
convinced that he was her missing husband
Marcel, while the other was Pierre Manjoin,
who claimed he was his son, Octave.
Court case followed court case,
fascinatingly recounted by Le Naour, up to
the outset of the Second World War, by
which time Manjoin, who it became clear
was the right one, tragically died.
Equally sad was that Mangin never left
the asylum and died of starvation in 1942 in
another forgotten scandal, in which mental
defectives in asylums were deprived of food
during the war in a covert euthanasia project.
This book deserves reading not only due
to Le Naour’s clarity and scholarship, but
because in retelling the story of one man’s
suffering, Mangin becomes the poignant
symbol of the grief of a nation.
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