Several years ago my son asked me to write down some of the stories I had told to amuse him as he was growing up. Most were about history. The anecdotes had to be entertaining and short, dealing with subjects that were not likely to be covered in most American schools.

The early career of George Washington serves as an example. In 1754 CE young George provided the spark that set off a world war. Aged 22, he held the record for being the youngest person to do so for 160 years.

This is more important and interesting than fables about cherry trees or musings about Washington’s false teeth. In his defense, it seems that Washington was manipulated into the chain of actions that triggered a world war by a trusted native guide who had an agenda of his own. For better or for worse, the details deserve to be more widely known than they are.

Apparently trifling matters can have huge consequences. For example:

• A key reason the Byzantine Empire fell was because its Emperor tried to underpay an engineer.

• A British general’s real estate scam was critical to the success of the American Revolution.

• A wife’s desire to be honored with full courtly ritual helped precipitate World War I.

And unintended consequences can overwhelm apparently successful efforts:

• The crusade against Persia by Emperor Heraclius helped create a new and larger threat to Christian Europe spanning three continents and lasting over 1,300 years to date.

• Arguments about reforming liturgies and redefining ecclesiastical power paved the way for the scientific and industrial revolutions in England.

• The movements of a Czech military force attempting to escape from Russia during the Russian Civil War inadvertently resulted in the execution of the Czar and his family.

The anecdotes that follow summarize the facts insofar as they are established. No claim is made to original research. Instead of footnotes each piece has recommendations for further reading. These supplemental works generally provide full academic apparatus including footnotes and bibliographies. Materials cited for further reading have been chosen on the basis of their accuracy and accessibility.

I would like to gratefully acknowledge and thank those who read and commented on earlier drafts. Their reactions have led to better focus and more detail, to the correction of lapses and omissions, and to the pruning of many an otiose and prolix passage. I am responsible for any errors of fact or judgement and infelicities of style that remain.

Stephen Young


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