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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes dead people decidedly lively!
I enjoyed this book a lot! On a Saturday (late) morning, after an overly convivial Friday night, I started this book. One of my first thoughts was that the mini-bios were of a perfect length - not a single paragraph making a simple point, nor tediously drawn-out. Each was about 2 - 3 pages: long enough to give a bit of background on the childhood trauma, illness, or...
Published on September 5, 2010 by Gone2lunch

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If Will & Ariel Durant wrote the New York Times Obituary Section...
This collection of "mini-biographies" looks at the lives (well, not the whole lives) of about 70 figures from history. If you are looking for in-depth biographic treatments, this book is not for you. On the other hand, if you are interested in the little known habits and influences of some pretty interesting people, grab this book. I'm not sure this is good history, but...
Published on December 17, 2010 by Jared Castle


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes dead people decidedly lively!, September 5, 2010
This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
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I enjoyed this book a lot! On a Saturday (late) morning, after an overly convivial Friday night, I started this book. One of my first thoughts was that the mini-bios were of a perfect length - not a single paragraph making a simple point, nor tediously drawn-out. Each was about 2 - 3 pages: long enough to give a bit of background on the childhood trauma, illness, or bad breaks that led to the person's accomplishments, but never long enough to be dull. To be honest, I also thought it was great that the bios were short so I could nap in between. (OK, it was a SERIOUSLY convivial Friday night). I ended up reading it all that day, with only one or two nap breaks. It was just enjoyable. In a few cases (mostly scientists) where I knew a bit about the subject, the scholarship seemed spot on. In others, I learned about some fascinating characters and cleared up misconceptions about others.

The one quibble I had was that the bios were grouped into categories that seemed a bit strained at times. For example, pretty much everyone born pre-1900 had what we would call a rotten childhood and in most cases the father was absent. Lumping a set of bios into chapters on lousy fathers or underprivileged upbringings to make a point seemed a bit strained at times. Having quibbled that, I have to say that the book is extremely well written.

Don't read this, as I did, expecting a book on macabre deaths. (Death is so undignified when it happens to other people). Instead, it's a look at what drives people to create and achieve, summing up with the exhortation that anyone still alive has the chance to achieve something noteworthy. I don't know if I'll read the book again, but I've already started researching the lives of some of the people featured. I won't give it to anyone outright lest it be interpreted as "get off your lazy 6 and do something," but I'll leave it on my office or club book exchange shelf knowing someone else will enjoy it.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From da Vinci to Buckminster Fuller (in no predictable order), August 31, 2010
This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
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It would be difficult for me to describe exactly what I was expecting this book to be. I hoped it was going to be the type of book laid out so that you could read it over time. While some may want to read it from cover to cover, to me the selections would all run together that way and also make it seem more of a textbook.

It turns out that I was basically correct. The book is divided into ten chapters and the sixty-some mini biographies are split among them. The selections and the material about them will cause you to wonder about the title. Yes, they are all about people who are dead, but I guess that's the only common factor so they went with that.

While there is humor in the body of the book, one of the funniest parts to me is the Index. As an example: Jiang Qing's portion of the book takes up five pages. There are, though, eight (yes, eight) separate sub-entries in the Index so you can go right to that page without having to dig through five pages. Each of the individuals few pages are thus dissected in the index. (I think. I didn't actually look up the entries for each one.)

Since I want to enjoy these entries over time, I read at least one in each of the ten chapters. Seemingly, the writing was done and then separated into the chapters. This is good. I can sense no difference in the treatment of the material from the front of the book to the back.

This is one of those books it's fun to have and to read out loud to friends. The entries are long enough to cover what the authors set out to cover, yet are short enough to be amenable to sharing. This goes on my bookshelf beside 'my' chair to grab and read a few entries at a time.

It was well written and includes not only the Index but also a Further Reading section for those wanting more. This should be a fun addition to the library of those interested in history or historical personages.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Assortment of (Bite-Sized) Tasty Treats., October 27, 2010
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This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
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John Lloyd and John Mitchinson profile over five dozen incredibly diverse historical characters in THE BOOK OF THE DEAD, ranging from Ben Franklin and Genghis Khan to Pieter Stuyvesant and Tallulah Bankhead.

The mini-biographies, which run anywhere from about three to eight pages, are arranged in chapters that tie together a handful of people based upon some commonly-shared aspect of their lives. For example, everyone in Chapter 7, "The Monkey-Keepers" (including Rembrandt, Frida Kahlo, and Madame Mao), had a simian companion at some point in their lives. In Chapter 9, "Once You're Dead, You're Made for Life" we learn about five people (including Karl Marx and Nikola Tesla) whose most significant contributions weren't fully recognized or realized until after their deaths.

As short as they are, none of the biographies could be considered "complete." But they certainly give enough information to give the reader an incentive to seek "further reading," and in fact, the authors have helpfully provided at the end of the book, several pages of references for those who want to dig a little deeper.

When reading a book that I intend to review for Amazon's Vine program, I usually stick little scraps of paper in those pages that contain some tidbit that I don't want to neglect to mention. The only issue with this book is that by the time I was finished reading, I had filled it with a small bag of confetti... there were far more interesting highlights than I could ever write about in a single review.

One of the more startling bookmarks was placed in Alfred Kinsey's bio. We all know that he was a pioneering sex researcher, publishing two incredibly frank books (SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN MALE, and SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN FEMALE) in 1948 and 1953. How Kinsey managed to get so many people --in the 1940s and 50s no less-- to give graphic details about their sexual habits is noteworthy. More stunning still was the revelation about Kinsey's own sexual practices. So as to avoid stepping over the bounds of decency, I'm not going to reveal the details in this review, but suffice it to say, he was doing things with a toothbrush that did not involve the prevention of cavities.

At the other end of the sexually-adventurous spectrum was John Harvey Kellogg, who despite fostering over forty children with his wife (and adopting seven of them), believed that one of the keys to healthy living was to suppress ones sexual urges. According to the book, he "was still a virgin when he died aged almost ninety-two."

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was just six years old when she contracted polio. She lived in pain from this point on in her life. It got worse --twelve years later she was a passenger on a bus that was broadsided by a train. She spent a year in bed recovering from the horrific injuries suffered in the crash --and it was during this time that she became an artist-- her father had rigged an apparatus with a mirror enabling her to see and draw objects in her room while confined to bed, flat on her back.

There are over sixty other equally-intriguing stories told here, many about people that were (at least somewhat) familiar to me, others I had never heard of, but virtually all of them were fascinating.

-Jonathan Sabin
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If Will & Ariel Durant wrote the New York Times Obituary Section..., December 17, 2010
This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This collection of "mini-biographies" looks at the lives (well, not the whole lives) of about 70 figures from history. If you are looking for in-depth biographic treatments, this book is not for you. On the other hand, if you are interested in the little known habits and influences of some pretty interesting people, grab this book. I'm not sure this is good history, but it is entertaining.

The book is organized by theme (e.g., "Driven", "Happy-Go-Lucky", and "Is That All There Is?") and groups its subjects accordingly. We get one chapter that groups Genghis Khan and William Morris. Another finds commonality between Sigmund Freud and Christian Anderson. The book aims to provide information "their official biographers would have unquestionably left out." Thus, we learn about childhood influences, sexual habits, mental illnesses, and a host of other personality traits. The book is a treasure trove of facts that would be of interest to trivia buffs. It reminds me some of the Book of Lists that were popular in the 1970s.

I wonder if the authors included too many subjects in one book. The individual biographical sketches are usually less than five pages. This results in a whirlwind of facts and short stories that leave one a little numb after several hours of reading. I think the book works best in small bites (i.e. bathroom reader).

The book is interesting enough that I bet many readers decide to read full biographies of some of the more obscure people included in the book.

If that's the case, Will and Ariel might approve.

Rating: 3.5 stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Christmas gift--lots of fun, October 3, 2010
By 
Tracy Hodson (Down by the Sea, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
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"The Book of the Dead" is an amusing entertainment. Filled with colorful characters from history, all of whom have two things in common--they're dead, and their lives were eventful and significant--the book gives us the brief histories of the loathsome and the lovely, the miserable and the merry. The authors have created idiosyncratic groupings for their subjects--instead of listing them by their most obvious contributions, or by nationality or some other obvious category, they instead co-habit chapters entitled 'Driven' (Genghis Khan, William Morris), 'Let's Do It' (Casanova, Alfred Kinsey), and 'The Monkey-keepers' (which makes unexpected bedfellows of Catherine de Medici and Frida Kahlo). Kingdom-wrecker and fraud Titus Oates rubs up against fabulist Princess Caraboo and other notorious name-changers in Chapter 8 ('Who Do You Think You Are?'); Shaker and celibate Ann Lee sleeps uneasily next to the ecstatic poet William Blake in the final chapter, dedicated to those renowned for their spiritual passion ('Is That All There Is?'). For "Black Adder" fans who have wondered who the much-mentioned Lady Hamilton is, she's here in all her seductive infamy (one of the authors, John Lloyd, produced it, and many other very funny British shows). And if you're wondering why the insistence on the importance of being a monkey-lover, it seems that the whole course of British history could have been different had a single pet monkey who carried up to the roof a certain infant simply let go.

This is a slight book, one destined for in-bath or airplane travel reading, but it would also make a great gift, especially for reading in company with a large group. Reading out bits of it and trying to guess who the subject is could make for a nice alternative to watching television at Christmas time. Lovers of historical trivia will certainly find enough material to keep them happy; heavy readers who need a light break, and light readers who just want to relax before bed will all find this a satisfying read
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, just not all at once, September 13, 2010
This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
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When I've thought about history, I've always been more interested in how the people lived, what their thoughts and beliefs were, more then what they actually did to become famous. For that reason I found this book very interesting since it focuses on the persons life, oddities, habits etc. and not just the one act or invention that made them famous. Although it can be a little boring if you read too much at once, reading a chapter a day seemed pretty good.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly awesome! (Is unexpectedly even a word?), October 21, 2010
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Leslie Ann Lewis (San Antonio, Texas) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
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Lots of times these biography books claim to present a side of historic figures that you have never seen before. Usually it ends up being stuff you have read before and you have wasted your money and your time. But this book is ACTUALLY full new information, at least new to me and I consider myself to be pretty well read.

I started reading this book on a road trip from San Antonio to Kansas City. It was so funny, that I started reading bits out loud to my husband and his brother. I entirely expected them to tell me to knock it off, since they usually just get annoyed by the things I find amusing. But after a moment they asked me to read more, and I ended up reading until it got too dark.

Sometimes we laughed, sometimes we shook our heads is confusion, and sometimes we sat in perplexed silence. We enjoyed it greatly and if you are the type of person who enjoys odd and usual tidbits, I think you will like it too. My favorite take away? Ben Franklin referring to himself as "Dr. Fatsides"!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich in Detail is This Lively Book of the Dead, October 14, 2010
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Spudman (Pasadena, MD United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
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This may not be the best book I've ever read, but it's a book I thoroughly enjoyed, one I constantly talked about, and one I was almost disappointed to finish. And yet I almost missed out on an enriching experience because of a closed mind. The book is imposingly over 400 pages long, has no pictures, and its early reviews were bleak.
After a month of procrastination I finally decided to bite the bullet and at least start this book. I'd read ten to 20 pages just to see if I'd like the book. Amazingly even the prologue and introduction piqued my interest, raised my expectations, and made me suspect I had arbitrarily misjudged this book based on circumstantial evidence.

By serendipitous happenstance the first historical figure explored is Leonardo DaVinci, someone I've always admired. From that first page there was no stopping, and I looked forward to learning about an eclectic collection of historical figures, seemingly disparate yet linked by commonalities and themes.
Learning that Leonardo didn't invent the helicopter, was bad at math, and often made errors in arithmetic is eye opening. He even thought the moon was covered with water. His faults don't diminish his greatness in my eyes though, but only make him more human and compelling.

The rest of the first chapter, featuring those who had a bad start in life, includes Freud, Newton, Oliver Heaviside, Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace,Hans Christian Anderson, and Salvador Dali who was even more of a character than I knew.

In each chapter 6 to 8 dead people are masterfully linked together with a common thread. Page after page after page we are reminded of that thread, a thread that even reaches to people in previous chapters. Beginning writers would be well served to read and observe the craft of writing as exhibited by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.

Prior to reading Book of the Dead I had expected a book that was humorous, irreverent, and lightweight. I couldn't have been more wrong. Yes, there are many strange idiosyncracies contained within but there is also compassion, inspiration, and edification.

In a book filled with shocking revelations,some about sexual preferences, preferences and unexpected abstinence, the fact that rang the bell on my shock meter was one about Alred Kinsey, and not the details of what he did to satisfy his sexual masochism. Alfred Kinsey, author of scholarly books about human sexuality, had a "furious hatred" for potatoes, a passionate aversion born in childhood because potatoes were often the only food available to the young Kinsey.

You won't regret reading this book, one that can be read one chapter at a time or one subject at a time. Every minute spent with this wonderful book is sure to be satisfying and rewarding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully eclectic, October 10, 2010
This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
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I detest biographies. Can't read them to save my soul. But a biography in my hands and I am doomed to slip to slumber land in like, 5 mins- flat. But...if you put a collection of mini-biographies about a bunch of dead people in my hands, then I suppose that I can struggle through it and make it out alive. Which is kind of ironic, because this book is about a bunch of dead people. But very interesting dead people, I might add.

While I like it for its interesting tidbits and behind-the-scenes look at some of the most famous, controversial, and mislabeled people ever, I really love it for the fresh take it has on the biography itself. It is divided up into chapters dealing with deep human subjects like drive, emotion, sex, money and the like. Each of those chapters contains a mini-biography of a dead person who fit those characteristics to a "T".

The writing was crisp, fresh, and funny. It offered a great peek into the lives of those who have gone before and serves as the perfect book of pop trivia and meaningless facts. Great to read in increments, it is best savored over a few days in between other books, tasks, chores, or homework. I love carring it around and having people ask me what I am reading and then I can tell them how oddly fascinating it is.

One of my new favorites, it goes on the shelf next to "An Incomplete Education" and "Everything you know is wrong." What a wonderful book. And I didn't fall asleep once.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected; exponentially better, September 14, 2010
This review is from: The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure (Hardcover)
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My husband is sick of this book. He's not reading it (yet) but every time I read some of it, I end up telling him all about what I've read.

These mini-bios are presented in a fascinating way and my brain is wired to follow the jumps logically (and I'm not bored before the bios are finished). Whatever one bio leaves me wondering about is addressed in the next. They're also great teasers to explore more about the subjects. After reading about Ben Franklin, I got his autobiography for my husband's Kindle (after I told him the story of Franklin's belly being "on a woman" of course).

I wanted to jump in and give my review even though I haven't finished the book because of the way I read. The mor eI enjoy something, the slower I read and with greater periods of time between readings so as to draw out my experience. I find that I'm reading this book very slowly and not as frequently as I did when I began. At this rate, I'll be a while devouring this book.

Somehow I got the impression this book would be something other than what it was; there were no user reviews at this time. I recommend combing these reviews to get a good impression of what this book *is* -- fascination short biographies that tell you what you didn't know about the figures you've heard of and tell you about people you'd like to know more about.

If you like Mental Floss, Neatorama, etc., this is a book you'll likely want to add to your collection.
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