Very Short Fact: On this day in 1960, at the Summer Olympics in Rome, Abebe Bikila becomes the first sub-Saharan African to win a gold medal, winning the marathon in his bare feet.

Herodotus lives on, of course, in popular culture – in the race named after the Athenian Pheidippides’ run to Sparta, for example, seeking assistance at Marathon. The very name of Marathon has even contributed its last syllable to the word ‘telethon’ made up to designate the sustained hours of irksome television broadcasting that interrupt regular programming to raise money for a worthy cause.

[p. 111, Herodotus: A Very Short Introduction, by Jennifer T. Roberts]
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Abebe Bikila, 1960, by Blackcat. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short FactOn this day in 1960, at the Summer Olympics in Rome, Abebe Bikila becomes the first sub-Saharan African to win a gold medal, winning the marathon in his bare feet.

Herodotus lives on, of course, in popular culture – in the race named after the Athenian Pheidippides’ run to Sparta, for example, seeking assistance at Marathon. The very name of Marathon has even contributed its last syllable to the word ‘telethon’ made up to designate the sustained hours of irksome television broadcasting that interrupt regular programming to raise money for a worthy cause.

[p. 111, Herodotus: A Very Short Introduction, by Jennifer T. Roberts]

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Abebe Bikila, 1960, by Blackcat. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1939, Britain and France declare war on Germany

The public mood after the outbreak of the Second World War was notably less passionate or strident than after August 1914. Neither the militarism nor the pacifism of that earlier conflict was echoed now. In large measure, this was because of the curious features of the early months of the war. During the so-called ‘phoney war’ period down to April 1940, the fighting seemed remote, almost academic. It is a curious, twilight phase well portrayed in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Put out More Flags.

[p. 45, Twentieth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction, by Kenneth O. Morgan]. 
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Image credit: War Office Second World War gas masks, from Imperial War Museums. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1939, Britain and France declare war on Germany

The public mood after the outbreak of the Second World War was notably less passionate or strident than after August 1914. Neither the militarism nor the pacifism of that earlier conflict was echoed now. In large measure, this was because of the curious features of the early months of the war. During the so-called ‘phoney war’ period down to April 1940, the fighting seemed remote, almost academic. It is a curious, twilight phase well portrayed in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Put out More Flags.

[p. 45, Twentieth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction, by Kenneth O. Morgan]. 

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Image credit: War Office Second World War gas masks, from Imperial War Museums. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 2003, Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years, passing 34,646,418 miles (55,758,005 km) distant.

The planets and their mutual gravitational pulls are continuously changing configuration. Chaos theory says it is therefore impossible to predict planetary positions more than a few million years ahead. However, it can be shown that the Solar System is sufficiently stable that no planet is likely to collide or be ejected in the next few billion years. We are probably safe for at least 5 billion years, which is when astronomers expect the Sun to swell up into a red giant, whereupon the wanderings of Mars will be the least of the problems faced by any far future Earthlings.

[p. 23, 24, Planets: A Very Short Introduction, by David A. Rothery]
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NASA Mars landing gif via giphy.com

Very Short Fact: On this day in 2003, Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years, passing 34,646,418 miles (55,758,005 km) distant.

The planets and their mutual gravitational pulls are continuously changing configuration. Chaos theory says it is therefore impossible to predict planetary positions more than a few million years ahead. However, it can be shown that the Solar System is sufficiently stable that no planet is likely to collide or be ejected in the next few billion years. We are probably safe for at least 5 billion years, which is when astronomers expect the Sun to swell up into a red giant, whereupon the wanderings of Mars will be the least of the problems faced by any far future Earthlings.

[p. 23, 24, Planets: A Very Short Introduction, by David A. Rothery]

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NASA Mars landing gif via giphy.com

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1940, after three months of the Battle Of Britain in the skies over the South Coast, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, makes the fourth of his famous wartime speeches in which he said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Churchill embodied a traditional sense of patriotic unity as no one else amongst his contemporaries could ever do. War gave his career a new impetus and relevance. His inspiring oratory over the radio and in the Commons conjured up new reserves of national will-power in this ‘finest hour’ for his country. 

[p. 47, Twentieth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction, by Kenneth O. Morgan]
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Image: Winston Churchill, from the Imperial War Museums Archive. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1940, after three months of the Battle Of Britain in the skies over the South Coast, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, makes the fourth of his famous wartime speeches in which he said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Churchill embodied a traditional sense of patriotic unity as no one else amongst his contemporaries could ever do. War gave his career a new impetus and relevance. His inspiring oratory over the radio and in the Commons conjured up new reserves of national will-power in this ‘finest hour’ for his country. 

[p. 47, Twentieth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction, by Kenneth O. Morgan]

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Image: Winston Churchill, from the Imperial War Museums Archive. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1961: Berliners wake to divided city as troops in East Germany seal off the border between East and West Berlin, shutting off the escape route for thousands of refugees from the East.

War was averted, to be sure, and Khrushchev was able to provide a form of life-support to the German Democratic Republic, but those achievements came at a high political and propaganda cost for the Soviet Union and East Germany. ‘It’s not a very nice solution’, mused a pragmatic Kennedy, ‘but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war’.

—Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction, page 85.
Image: Berlin, Mauerbau, Kampfgruppen am Brandenburger Tor, 13 August 1961. By Peter Junge, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-85458-0002. CC-BY-SA-3.0-de via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1961: Berliners wake to divided city as troops in East Germany seal off the border between East and West Berlin, shutting off the escape route for thousands of refugees from the East.

War was averted, to be sure, and Khrushchev was able to provide a form of life-support to the German Democratic Republic, but those achievements came at a high political and propaganda cost for the Soviet Union and East Germany. ‘It’s not a very nice solution’, mused a pragmatic Kennedy, ‘but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war’.

—Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction, page 85.

Image: Berlin, Mauerbau, Kampfgruppen am Brandenburger Tor, 13 August 1961. By Peter Junge, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-85458-0002. CC-BY-SA-3.0-de via Wikimedia Commons.


Very Short Fact: On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote and making it illegal to impose restrictions on federal, state and local elections that were designed to deny the vote to blacks.


In 1965 Johnson had the advantages of a landslide win and huge Democratic majorities in Congress. No president since has had such a favourable political position. As a result, and with developments in communication, presidents have increasingly reached out to the public in building support.

[p. 74, The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction, by Charles O. Jones]
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Image: Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, by Yoichi R. Okamoto. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote and making it illegal to impose restrictions on federal, state and local elections that were designed to deny the vote to blacks.

In 1965 Johnson had the advantages of a landslide win and huge Democratic majorities in Congress. No president since has had such a favourable political position. As a result, and with developments in communication, presidents have increasingly reached out to the public in building support.

[p. 74, The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction, by Charles O. Jones]

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Image: Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, by Yoichi R. Okamoto. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1991, Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, gave a huge free concert in London’s Hyde Park to celebrate 30 years in opera.

Opera is essentially theatre in song, the melody allowing the literary quality to become clear. Over time these operas became codified into a combination of recitatives and arias.

[p. 49, Early Music: A Very Short Introduction, by Thomas Forrest Kelly]
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Image: Pavarotti in Saint Petersburg, from the website of the President of the Russian Federation, www.kremlin.ru, via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1991, Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, gave a huge free concert in London’s Hyde Park to celebrate 30 years in opera.

Opera is essentially theatre in song, the melody allowing the literary quality to become clear. Over time these operas became codified into a combination of recitatives and arias.

[p. 49, Early Music: A Very Short Introduction, by Thomas Forrest Kelly]

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Image: Pavarotti in Saint Petersburg, from the website of the President of the Russian Federation, www.kremlin.ru, via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: on this day in 1929, the Fascist government in Italy banned the use of foreign words.

In 1921, Fascism took off in regions affected by agrarian unrest, where the youthful rural bourgeoisie began to join in large numbers. Fascist squads began a violent campaign of intimidation against Catholics and Socialists, in which many hundreds were killed.

[p. 44, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction, by Kevin Passmore]
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Image: Prospero Gianferrari all’Alfa Romeo, from the Prospero Gianferrari Archive. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: on this day in 1929, the Fascist government in Italy banned the use of foreign words.

In 1921, Fascism took off in regions affected by agrarian unrest, where the youthful rural bourgeoisie began to join in large numbers. Fascist squads began a violent campaign of intimidation against Catholics and Socialists, in which many hundreds were killed.

[p. 44, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction, by Kevin Passmore]

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Image: Prospero Gianferrari all’Alfa Romeo, from the Prospero Gianferrari Archive. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: on this day in 1945, the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The bomb released the explosive force of nearly 19,000 tons of TNT, and the New Mexico sky was suddenly brighter than many suns. Some observers suffered temporary blindness even though they looked at the brilliant light through smoked glass. 

[p. 19, Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, by Joseph M. Siracusa]
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Very Short Fact: on this day in 1945, the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The bomb released the explosive force of nearly 19,000 tons of TNT, and the New Mexico sky was suddenly brighter than many suns. Some observers suffered temporary blindness even though they looked at the brilliant light through smoked glass. 

[p. 19, Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, by Joseph M. Siracusa]

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This week our Very Short Fact celebrates all things “landscape”:

The idea that landscapes can do things for us was captured in the idea of ‘regenerative design’ advanced by John Tillman Lyle (1934–98) … Lyle drew a distinction between two ways of living, which he called ‘degenerative’ and ‘regenerative’. Degenerative living uses up limited resources and fills natural ‘sinks’, such as the atmosphere, lakes, rivers, and the oceans, with damaging waste products. It is a linear process, a ‘one-way throughput system’ heading toward a dystopian future. Regenerative living, on the other hand, provides for the continuous replacement of the energy and materials through forms of recycling.

[p. 59, 60, Landscape Architecture: A Very Short Introduction, by Ian Thompson]
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Image: SUDS pool, by Lairich Rig. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This week our Very Short Fact celebrates all things “landscape”:

The idea that landscapes can do things for us was captured in the idea of ‘regenerative design’ advanced by John Tillman Lyle (1934–98) … Lyle drew a distinction between two ways of living, which he called ‘degenerative’ and ‘regenerative’. Degenerative living uses up limited resources and fills natural ‘sinks’, such as the atmosphere, lakes, rivers, and the oceans, with damaging waste products. It is a linear process, a ‘one-way throughput system’ heading toward a dystopian future. Regenerative living, on the other hand, provides for the continuous replacement of the energy and materials through forms of recycling.

[p. 59, 60, Landscape Architecture: A Very Short Introduction, by Ian Thompson]

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Image: SUDS pool, by Lairich Rig. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.