The Sultan of Zanzibar: The Bizarre World and Spectacular Hoaxes of Horace de Vere Cole by Martyn Downer - review by Alexander Waugh

Alexander Waugh

Prankster’s Progress

The Sultan of Zanzibar: The Bizarre World and Spectacular Hoaxes of Horace de Vere Cole

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Black Spring Press 288pp £16.99 order from our bookshop
 

Horace de Vere Cole is not a name that many people are likely to recognise, but nor was John Harrison before Dava Sobel’s biography, Longitude, brought the eighteenth-century horologist to worldwide attention. So it can be done, and it looks very much as though Martyn Downer and the Black Spring Press are trying to rekindle the same public excitement that made Longitude a runaway bestseller in 1996.

But they will have their work cut out, for although Harrison and Cole were both obscure, stubborn, eccentric, anti-establishment individuals, there are important differences between them. Harrison was the son of a Yorkshire joiner who, thanks to his self-taught scientific knowledge, succeeded in calculating longitude on sea voyages,

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