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3.9 out of 5 stars
How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover
After reading How They Croaked with my sixth grade world history classes, I was thrilled to discover that Georgia Bragg would be releasing a new book, similar in subject. My students LOVED How They Croaked and were delighted by Bragg's blunt tone in writing about the "awful ends of the awfully famous." Well, I am nearly finished with How They Choked, and have found the book to be average. Having pre-ordered 30 copies for my students, many of whom were excited about reading a book for the first time (their words, not mine) I am worried they will be disappointed. While the book has a similar tone to Choked, it often rambles on, and I was sometimes left wondering what the big failures were. (In my opinion, Susan B. Anthony never abandoning her crusade for women's rights was not a failure!) I have to wonder, was there a rush to get this book to press? It includes lines such as, " Marco didn't owe his dad a thing after what he had done to him, but he agreed to help him anyway." There are way too many ambiguous pronouns in that sentence for it to have survived meticulous editing. Long story short, the book is worth reading for a very biased history lesson, but don't expect the entertainment you got from How They Croaked.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover
A half-truth is more damaging than an outright lie. I was at first interested in the idea of this book, but when I started reading through the list of names I wondered how Isaac Newton could be in there. That section alone was enough to earn this review, but there were several others that seemed like the author was going out of their way to make the subject seem like an awful person, or group, with clearly very little in the way of factual backup. However, the book is written as if it is a fact based lampoon of certain individuals. I'm not sure how anyone could think it would be a good idea to subject young children to something so negative and full of purposeful misinterpretations of partial facts. I think the author can eventually go in between the covers of their own book here.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The Story-
This is a book of belly flops and mistakes. Divided into 14 chapters, children will read the real life tales of 14 famous people such as Marco Polo, Anne Boleyn, Issac Newton, Vincent Van Gogh and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Each story takes a unique look at the famous person and includes the incidents that caused them to fail or how their failures brought success.

My Thoughts-
History tends to look at the best sides of a person, this book takes the opposite approach. It's main purpose is to let children realize that real people make mistakes and that that you shouldn't idolize anyone before you know their true story. The author does achieves this goal with 14 real life tales, which include bits of his own humor, about famous people and their flubs.

For example, did you know that if Marco Polo hadn't failed as a Naval Captain and ended up in prison, that his story would never had been told, because it was his cell mate that wrote all his adventures down? Did you know that Montezuma II was so superstitious that he handed over his own people to the Spanish Conquistador Cortes?

These are great tales that children will eat up. It is a fun way to expose kids to history and allow them to see that there is so much to learn out there, and it's not boring at all! A small heads up, several of the people included died in horrible ways or were horrible tyrants. Also, some of the author's humor made me grimace, but kids probably won't care. 4.5 Stars!
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I bought this for my grade-school son, but reading through the one section I know quite a bit about, (the titanic), I find the story full of outright fabrications and intentionally misleading statements.

From just a few pages in the book, the following large errors and distortions were quickly found:

1) coal bunker fire - these were in fact not unusual. the way they were routinely handled was to burn the coal in the course of the voyage until the fire was reached, then extinguish it. the story heavy-handedly implies smith acted recklessly and/or unusually in sailing with a bunker fire. Did the author research bunker fires on coal-burning ships at all?

2) Ice from the greenland ice sheet is not much more than 100,000 years old, not 'millions of years.' Cores have been drilled to bedrock, this isn't obscure data.

3) Re the titanic not slowing down the night of the event - it is WIDELY perceived that Ismay wanted a new speed record to New York and this is why the ship did not slow down. This is not mentioned. Smith was seen specifically giving Ismay one of two warnings he had received that evening. The issue wasn't that smith was too busy 'partying with a bunch of millionaires.' Also, would it make a difference if Smith had been 'partying in steerage' instead?

4) I thought the '300 foot gash' story had been reasonably disproven finally based on the sonar studies. Has the author read anything since A Night to Remember on the ship?

5) Re starting forward motion again after the impact - testimony on this was confusing at best. Did smith order slow ahead or half ahead? This was reported to be for about 5 minutes, NOT 35 minutes as the book claims. Actual testimony from survivors on the bridge isn't completely clear on the topic.

6) The piece implies that Ismay/White Star was unusual in his decision to have insufficient lifeboats. The lifeboat quantity was consistent with what other liners were putting on ships of this size, as far as I can tell (examples Lusitania/Mauretania,) As I recall, all these large ships in fact met the requirements of the British government in lifeboat quantity, which was much lower than the total complement they carried.

7) Based on everything known, the assertation that Smith never ordered passengers to lifeboats is categorically false. I am stunned the author would make such a blatantly false claim. The author also makes odd comments about the 'millionaires' and the how they were or were not Smith's 'friends.'

8) Re Binoculars - testimony was that in fact the lookout binoculars were not on the ship due to a personnel switch. Not good, but not what is described in the book (locked in a locker). You can go read Fleet's testimony yourself. [As a counter-point to this, consider Fleet's testimony about how far the iceberg was when he sighted it, his ability to judge distance, size, and scale (and compare the drawing of scale he made later in his life). Fleet very possibly lied during his testimony, but it isn't clear that binoculars would have sped up his original sighting of the berg, whenever that was. If you are actually interested in the subject and not the author's rather odd hit job on Smith, Fleet's testimony and some of the discussions of it by professionals is a fascinating place to start.]

I can only assume the entire book is similarly misleading. I consider the short piece about the Titanic to be more in line with an intentional hit piece/propaganda piece against Captain Smith than anything resembling an effort to present accurate information. Do I dare even give this to my son? (in the end I chose not to, since the book masquerades as non-fiction in source material, and he would have to unlearn any of the distorted impressions he picked up from it on a variety of historical figures).
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on January 10, 2015
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Surprisingly educational, too. Interesting stuff. We read it at the dining room table. It holds everyone's interest.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I gave both "How They Choked" and "How They Croaked" as a gift to my grandson. He enjoyed them and laughed and laughed. These books are well written adding humor to a sad situation.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Our whole family (husband, wife, children ages 12 and 10) enjoyed listening to HOW THEY CHOKED in the car. I really enjoyed hearing the real facts and stories behind the historical people of which I only knew the main points.

The theme of the book is how famous and infamous people choked or failed on their way to infamy or fame. Some of the stories that really stood out for me were: (1) how Amelia Earhart was really a reckless flyer who only cared for fame and who failed to take proper flight precautions or trained herself in technology, all of which led to her demise (2) how Magellan was a cruel and despotic captain who never really circumnavigated the globe, and (3) how Isaac Newton's sad childhood and obsession with alchemy derailed one of the finest minds of a generation.

My one quibble with the book is that it seems like the author was trying to fit the stories into a "failure" or "choked" theme, even when the stories did not really reflect failure (like Susan B Anthony, who though she did not live to see women's suffrage, worked her whole life for it and never truly failed).

A very lively and fun listen. The side bar information at the end of each chapter was harder to listen to (than presumably to read) as many times they were just lists of information.

I gave this five stars because I really learned a lot about each of these historical figures and was entertained while doing so.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2014
Format: Audible Audio Edition
4.25 Stars
A collection of mini-biographies of famous historical figures and their "failures." This book is more appropriate for tweens and teens, but even adults will find this book entertaining. The cover art is great! There was one or two tidbits that were new and interesting to me (as an adult reader). If you liked How They Croaked, you will enjoy this one too. This nonfiction work is organized in a very similar manner with all the extra sections and lists; however, the number of historical figures discussed overall is less than the previous book. Recommended for older children and fans of quirky history.

Audiobook edition - The narrator performed well and kept my attention (it's one of the few audiobooks I have successfully finished from beginning to end; I read much faster than the average narrator). There was no droning on in a monotone voice! A very good audiobook aimed to keep the attention of children, but you do miss out on the illustrations.

LT Early Reviewers
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Ever wonder about the biggest screw-ups in the history of humanity? Then look no further than HOW THEY CHOKED: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg with humorous and detailed illustrations by Kevin O’Malley. This book is a sort of sequel to her first book, HOW THEY CROAKED, which details some of the strangest deaths of famous figures, but here, Bragg examines 14 historical figures and exposes them for the apparently terrible people that they were. The book is loaded with facts, and it is clear and admirable how much research the author put into this book. Using caustic and intelligent wit, Bragg details (strong emphasis on that word) the failures that have often been hidden behind the successes of such figures as Montezuma, Isaac Newton and Amelia Earhart.

I liked the book. It’s a quick read because it sucks you in, and there’s just the right number of infographs --- they’re interesting but not overbearing. The illustrations are clever, entertaining and placed well within each section. However, I wasn’t sure what the intended audience was. The bright colors, funny pictures and occasional youthful humor suggests a younger audience, but there were times that I found the book to stray away from listing and explaining interesting hidden failures and enter almost scathing territory. There are times where the author really beats down on these people, and they often deserve it, but it sometimes comes across as extremely harsh. It just might be too much for younger readers, but for someone in their teens and 20s, it’s hysterical and fascinating to see how many famous people have screwed up in history.

Overall, this book was a hoot and a half, a gripping read in the strangest yet best way, but I think this book is better suited to teens and college students than kids. But if you’re looking for a great story to tell at parties, or a pick-me-up when you’re feeling stressed out over school or careers, I would say this is the book is for you. It’s a well-researched jokefest with streaks of sarcasm running through that will satisfy the history nerd in everyone.

Reviewed by Corinne Fox
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I was absolutely fascinated by the stories of the famous and infamous characters in "How They Choked". I liked it even more than her first book in this series "How They Croaked". I have read and re-read many of the chapters just because I wanted to journey back in time to get a glimpse of these fatally flawed icons of history. I was impressed with the lush intimate details and with the lighthearted, yet serious, story telling style. I also appreciated all of the chapter title page drawings. This book has a lot of character and content.
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