Friday, December 3, 2010
The Book of the Dead by John Lloyd & John Mitchinson
Part Of The Synopsis From Dust Jacket:
As the authors themselves say, “The first thing that strikes you about the Dead is just how many of them there are.” Helpfully, Lloyd and Mitchinson have employed a simple—but ruthless—criterion for inclusion: the dead person has to be interesting.
Here, then, is a dictionary of the dead, an encyclopedia of the embalmed. Ludicrous in scope, whimsical in its arrangement, this wildly entertaining tome presents pithy and provocative biographies of the no-longer-living from the famous to the undeservedly and—until now—permanently obscure.
Organized by capricious categories—such as dead people who died virgins, who kept pet monkeys, who lost limbs, whose corpses refused to stay put—the dearly departed, from the inventor of the stove to a cross-dressing, bear-baiting female gangster finally receive the epitaphs they truly deserve.
Out of the ninety billion humans that lived and died on this planet, the authors narrowed it down to just shy of 70 who whether famous or not, lived some of the most compelling lives you would ever want to read about. This was a fun book that allowed me to learn more about figures that though familiar with, I didn't know all that much about. Issac Newton, Ada Lovelace, Nikola Tesla, Tallulah Bankhead, and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, are just some of the notable historical figures that I learned more about in this book than I ever did in high school or college.
As enjoyable as that is though, what I really loved about this book is that I was introduced to people I had never heard of before, but should have know about. I met Edward Jenner, an English doctor, who discovered a way to eradicate smallpox. This is a man we should have learned about in school or in college at least and I never heard of him until this book. I also met Mary Seacole, a Jamaican born woman who did so much to help out the troops during the Crimean War. She is a fascinating woman and I have every intention of hunting down her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands.
My reading wish list has grown quite a bit since I read this book. I've also added two books written by another woman I first met within these pages. Mary Kingsley was a one of the first women to explore Africa and considering she was from the Victorian era, that's quite a feat. She wrote two books, Travels in West Africa and West African Studies, and they are both books that I now want to read. I'm also going to see if I can find any work by the Portuguese write Fernando Pessoa. The man wrote, mainly unpublished even today, under a hundred different names. The most amazing thing is that the writing style was completely different for every name. I'm utterly fascinated by it and want to learn more.
This was a fun, engaging book that while not being able to give complex biographies of those humanized within it's pages, gives the reader a real sense of who these people were. At least for me, it gave me all the more reason to keep reading about them to find out even more.
I found a short interview with the authors over at NPR if anyone cares to listen to it.