Scandalous!

Tabloids such as The National Enquirer are simply not my cup of tea and in fact elicit rumblings of anger and nausea. Yet the new book Scandalous! : 50 Shocking Events you Should Know About (so you can impress your friends) by Hallie Fryd immediately caught my eye as well as my interest.

Perhaps the major difference between this book and a tabloid is that important, albeit sensational, historical events are examined. Each event includes The Scoop! (a short synopsis), What Went Down (a more detailed description of the event), The Players (a short list of those involved), a photo, Quoteables (quotes, usually from more than one side of the issue in question), The Aftermath (what became of those involved), Why We Still Care (repercussions of the event that made changes in American life) and More (other famous incidents of a similar nature). All of this in four short pages per topic.

So while each event is indeed sensationalized, deep insights are also offered. Take for example the story “World Famous Pilot Charles Lindbergh’s Baby is Kidnapped and Killed”. Things I learned that I had not known include: The kidnaper’s ransom notes were poorly written (perhaps indicating a lack of education), people from all over the country offered help to Lindbergh (John Condon, a retired principal, even acted as an intermediary between the Lindberghs and the kidnapper), negotiations continued for weeks, when money was finally given to the kidnaper it was marked so that it could be tracked, the instructions given by the kidnaper to find Lindbergh’s baby were fake, and a month after giving out the marked money the baby’s body was found. The alleged killer was eventually found, put on trial, and put to death. But questions about his guilt remained for years.

The part of each scandal that was most interesting to me was the section Why We Still Care. For the Lindbergh case, there are two reasons given.

  1. The trial shows how public opinion can influence a trial – The idea here is that Lindbergh was a beloved figure and people wanted retribution for the kidnapping and murder of his child. Newspapers played up every piece of evidence against the alleged killer, and in the trial the jury was only presented with circumstantial evidence. Yet the accused was put to death, perhaps largely because people were stirred up by the media.
  2. It was one of the first cases to use forensics to help solve a crime – The FBI opened its first crime lab the same year as the kidnapping occurred. In this case, handwriting in the ransom notes was analyzed, and the wood from the ladder found at the kidnapping scene was matched with wood in the accused man’s attic.

It’s fascinating to see actual historical events leading to changes that improve various aspects of our society.

The topics covered in this short book, while definitely qualifying as titillating, also tend towards the historically important, making for a fun and educational read. Some of the stories included are:

  • Native American Decathlete Jim Thorpe Stripped of Olympic Medals
  • Wealthy Chicago Teens Leopold and Loeb Kill 14-Year-Old Boy for Thrills
  • Hollywood Star Charlie Chaplin Accused of Fathering Stalker’s Baby
  • Rigged Quiz Show Scandal Stuns TV Audiences
  • Unethical Syphilis Experiments Conducted on Black Men
  • Janet Cooke’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Story Declared Fake
  • DNA Tests Spark Controversy Around Jefferson’s Second Family With a Slave
  • Tight Gore-Bush Election Results Lead to Bitter Battle Between Parties

All in all, a fascinating book, designed to be read by those with short attention spans (which currently includes… hey, what’s that shiny thing?), and a bit of a guilty pleasure. And guaranteed to have less calories than a pan of brownies. What more could one ask for?

Ron