Fascinating Facts

  • Novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic George Orwell dies today in 1950

    January 21, 1950 — Eric Arthur Blair (June 25, 1903 – January 21, 1950), better known by the pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.

    Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction, and polemical journalism. He is best known for the allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945) and the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). His non-fiction works, including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), documenting his experience of working class life in the north of England, and Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, are widely acclaimed, as are his essays on politics, literature, language, and culture. In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.

    Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian – descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices – has entered the language together with many of his neologisms, including cold war, Big Brother, Thought Police, Room 101, memory hole, newspeak, doublethink, and thoughtcrime.

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  • Happy Birthday President Woodrow Wilson

    Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was an American politician and academic who served as the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. Born in Staunton, Virginia, he spent his early years in Augusta, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina. (more…)

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  • Happy Birthday Sir Isaac Newton

    Sir Isaac Newton (December 25, 1642 – March 20, 1726) was an English mathematician, astronomer, and physicist (described in his own day as a “natural philosopher”) who is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time and a key figure in the scientific revolution. (more…)

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  • George Washington Dies Today in 1799

    George Washington (February 22, 1732 — December 14, 1799) was an American politician and soldier who served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797 and was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and later presided over the 1787 convention that drafted the United States Constitution. He is popularly considered the driving force behind the nation’s establishment and came to be known as the “father of the country,” both during his lifetime and to this day. (more…)

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  • Catch-22 author Joseph Heller Dies Today in 1999

    Joseph Heller (May 1, 1923 – December 12, 1999) was an American satirical novelist, short story writer, and playwright. The title of one of his works, Catch-22, entered the English lexicon, to refer to a vicious circle, involving an absurd, no-win, contradictory choice, particularly in situations in which the desired outcome of the choice is a bureaucratic or legal impossibility; regardless of the chosen option, therefore, a paradoxically negative outcome is a certainty. (more…)

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  • First woman Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, dies today in 1978

    Golda Meir (May 3, 1898 – December 8, 1978) was an Israeli teacher, kibbutznik, stateswoman and politician and the fourth elected Prime Minister of Israel. Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel on March 17, 1969, after serving as Minister of Labour and Foreign Minister. The world’s fourth and Israel’s first and only woman to hold such an office, she has been described as the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics, though her tenure ended before that term was applied to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  (more…)

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  • Nelson Mandela Dies Today in 2013

    Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18 , 1918 – December 5, 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist, who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. (more…)

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  • Happy Birthday Mark Twain

    Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher and lecturer. Among his novels are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called “The Great American Novel”.

    Twain was raised in Hannibal, Missouri, which later provided the setting for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. After an apprenticeship with a printer, Twain worked as a typesetter and contributed articles to the newspaper of his older brother, Orion Clemens. He later became a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River before heading west to join Orion in Nevada.

    He referred humorously to his lack of success at mining, turning to journalism for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. In 1865, his humorous story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was published, based on a story he heard at Angels Hotel in Angels Camp, California, where he had spent some time as a miner. The short story brought international attention, and was even translated into classic Greek.

    His wit and satire, in prose and in speech, earned praise from critics and peers, and he was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.

    Though Twain earned a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, he invested in ventures that lost a great deal of money, notably the Paige Compositor, a mechanical typesetter, which failed because of its complexity and imprecision.

    In the wake of these financial setbacks, he filed for protection from his creditors via bankruptcy, and with the help of Henry Huttleston Rogers eventually overcame his financial troubles. Twain chose to pay all his pre-bankruptcy creditors in full, though he had no legal responsibility to do so.

    Twain was born shortly after a visit by Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it,” too. He died the day after the comet returned. He was lauded as the “greatest American humorist of his age,” and William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature.”

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  • Happy Birthday to Sir Winston Churchill

    Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (November 30, 1874 – January 24, 1965) was a British statesman who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a non-academic historian, and a writer (as Winston S. Churchill). He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for his overall, lifetime body of work. In 1963, he was the first of only eight people to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. (more…)

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  • President John F. Kennedy is Assassinated Today in 1963

    John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), commonly referred to by his initials JFK, was an American politician who served as the 35th President of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963.

    The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the establishment of the Peace Corps, developments in the Space Race, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Trade Expansion Act to lower tariffs, and the Civil Rights Movement all took place during his presidency. A member of the Democratic Party, his New Frontier domestic program was largely enacted as a memorial to him after his death. Kennedy also established the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.

    Kennedy’s time in office was marked by high tensions with Communist states. He increased the number of American military advisers in South Vietnam by a factor of 18 over Eisenhower. In Cuba, a failed attempt was made at the Bay of Pigs to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro in April 1961.

    He subsequently rejected plans by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to orchestrate false-flag attacks on American soil in order to gain public approval for a war against Cuba. In October 1962, it was discovered Soviet ballistic missiles had been deployed in Cuba; the resulting period of unease, termed the Cuban Missile Crisis, is seen by many historians as the closest the human race has ever come to nuclear war between nuclear armed belligerents.

    After military service in the United States Naval Reserve in World War II, Kennedy represented Massachusetts’s 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953. He was elected subsequently to the U.S. Senate and served as the junior Senator from Massachusetts from 1953 until 1960.

    Kennedy defeated Vice President, and Republican candidate, Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. Presidential Election. At age 43, he became the youngest elected president and the second-youngest president (after Theodore Roosevelt, who was 42 when he became president after the assassination of William McKinley). Kennedy was also the first person born in the 20th century to serve as president. To date, Kennedy has been the only Roman Catholic president and the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize (for his biography Profiles in Courage).

    Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested that afternoon and determined to have fired shots that hit the President from a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby fatally shot Oswald two days later in a jail corridor.

    The FBI and the Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin, but its report was sharply criticized. The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) agreed that Oswald fired the shots that killed the president, but also concluded that Kennedy was likely assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.

    The majority of Americans alive at the time of the assassination (52% to 29%), and continuing through 2013 (61% to 30%), believed that there was a conspiracy and that Oswald was not the only shooter.

    Since the 1960s, information concerning Kennedy’s private life has come to light, including his health problems and allegations of infidelity. Kennedy continues to rank highly in historians’ polls of U.S. presidents and with the general public. His average approval rating of 70% is the highest of any president in Gallup’s history of systematically measuring job approval.

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  • Booker T. Washington Dies Today in 1915

    Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) was an American educator, author, orator, and advisor to presidents of the United States. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was the dominant leader in the African-American community. (more…)

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  • Happy Birthday Carl Sagan, born today in 1934

    Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences.

    He is best known for his work as a science popularizer and communicator. His best known scientific contribution is research on extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation. Sagan assembled the first physical messages sent into space: the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager Golden Record, universal messages that could potentially be understood by any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find them. Sagan argued the now accepted hypothesis that the high surface temperatures of Venus can be attributed to and calculated using the greenhouse effect. (more…)

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