From The Beacon: Library full of true, strange stories

Mark Twain once said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't." The following books are true accounts, yet they have an air of strangeness.

"Birthright: The True Story that Inspired 'Kidnapped'" by A. Roger Ekirch: Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped" was inspired by this actual case. The events take place in Ireland, England, America and Jamaica during the first half of the 18th century. James Annesley, who was an heir to land, aristocratic titles and the Earldom of Anglesea, was kidnapped from Ireland with the connivance of his uncle and shipped to the Delaware River Valley in America as a virtual slave. He remained there for 13 years before escaping and returning to Ireland to claim his birthright, which he attempted to do through the law courts of his day. The book provides an excellent history of the Irish and English legal system of the 18th century.

"Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis Assured an Allied Victory" by Ben Macintyre: During World War II (1943), British Intelligence officials went to amazing lengths to feed the Nazis false intelligence about the Allies' planned invasion of Sicily. The idea was to induce the Nazis to commit resources away from Sicily and toward bogus targets so the Allies would face minimal opposition when they landed. The British used a dead man to create a fictitious identity, outfitted him in a military uniform and attached a briefcase of fake, but believable, military documents. Then they placed him off the coast of Spain, where he would be found by Spanish authorities (although officially neutral, Spain was supportive of Nazi Germany) and ultimately the Nazis. The information the man possessed was analyzed and sent up the chain of command to Hitler.

"Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa" by R.A. Scotti: In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in one of the most spectacular thefts of the century. The theft and the resulting hunt for the painting and those responsible created a sensation. Who stole it? Was there a conspiracy? The painting was recovered in Florence in 1913, but who was responsible remains a mystery. Read this book and learn more about this painting and its place in the world.

"The Great Sea Island Storm of 1893" by Bill Marscher and Fran Marscher: We all are familiar with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, but what about the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893, in an era before cell phones, helicopters, airplanes and the National Guard? In late August of 1893, the storm delivered a catastrophic blow to the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. Residents of the Sea Islands suffered terribly. Thousands died directly because of the storm; more deaths resulted from disease and starvation in the aftermath because the infrastructure and crops were destroyed. Help was nonexistent at first, and then slow to come. Did you know that Clara Barton, founder and president of the American Red Cross, worked in the Beaufort area for months?

"The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations" by Brian M. Fagan: During the Middle Ages, roughly from 800-1300, Europe generally basked in mild weather. Crops grew farther North than usual. For example, did you know that England had vineyards and actually was exporting wine to France? The population of the continent grew, and more people left the countryside to live in cities. However, in other parts of the world, the weather was destructive. Drought and famine caused the collapse of the Mayan civilization in Central America. This is a fascinating study of anthropology and climatology.