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The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0307716408
ISBN-10: 0307716406
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this biographical miscellany, British authors Lloyd and Mitchinson scan the lives of "three score and eight" historical figures ranging from the world famous (Marx, Freud, Alexander the Great) to the forgotten (Mary Seacole, Titus Oates, Archibald Belaney). The authors' aim with these capsule sketches is to provide material about their subjects that "their official biographers would have unquestionably left out." This means sex, of course, but also includes mental illness, hearsay, and just plain bad taste. As the average sketch runs about four pages, there is not much opportunity for depth. The authors' combat this through prurience, glib psychologizing, and by linking their subjects thematically: Leonardo da Vinci and Lord Byron are in the same section because they had "a bad start in life," while Genghis Khan and Robert Peary were "driven"; they also discuss the sexual proclivities of H.G. Wells and Catherine the Great. As the biographies are all crammed so closely together, they quickly begin to blur into one another.
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Review

“Trivia buffs and know-it-alls alike will exult to find so much repeatable wisdom gathered in one place.”
New York Times
 
“Eye-watering, eyebrow-raising, terrific . . . moving slightly faster than your brain does, so that you haven’t quite absorbed the full import of one blissful item of trivial information before two or three more come along.”
Daily Mail (UK)
 
“Lloyd and Mitchinson dare to ask questions I stopped asking when I supposedly learned to know better.”
Associated Press
 
“Dead Good.”
Stephen Fry
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307716406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307716408
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.5 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gone2lunch VINE VOICE on September 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: 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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