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Heroes: Saviors, Traitors, and Supermen: A History of Hero Worship Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 13, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. If you were hosting a celestial dinner party and could invite anyone from history, who would attend? Lincoln, Einstein, Shakespeare? But it might be shrewder to collect the truly mesmerizing characters who combined transcendent charisma and resolve, such as Achilles or Garibaldi. Having long pondered precisely such people, Sunday Times of London critic Hughes-Hallett would likely give a humdinger of a bash. Her fascinating, wide-ranging book lovingly plumbs the careers of seven well-chosen men to trace the history of the hero in Western culture: in addition to the two mentioned above, she includes the Athenian Alcibiades; Roman senator Cato the Younger; the crusader El Cid; the pirate Francis Drake; and war plunderer Albrecht von Wallenstein. What sets these men apart? A preternatural ability to inspire, "a disdain for the cramping compromises by means of which the unheroic majority manage their lives." To exalt scoundrels like Drake or Wallenstein is to challenge our modern dictum that all are created equal; recognizing this, Hughes-Hallett appends a cautionary coda about the antidemocratic legacy of these Nietzschean "supermen." She notes that a hero needn't be virtuous; he need only "inspire confidence and... appear, not good necessarily, but great." Compellingly portraying her heroes, Hughes-Hallett is equally brilliant in evoking both the allure and the danger of hero worship. 32 pages of photos, 16 in color. (Sept. 19)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Overused to the point of meaninglessness, the word hero receives some rehabilitation from this perspicacious British critic. After selecting six famous figures from history and two from mythology (Achilles and Odysseus), Hughes-Hallett proceeds to puzzle over the superhuman qualities attributed to them. Her discussions are notable for their insightful appraisals of personality and motivation and for the revealing manner in which she contrasts crass historical reality with exalted reputation. For example, she notes that Rodrigo Diaz, El Cid, was as much a mercenary as a champion of Christian Spain; his eleventh-century campaigns, or depredations, typify the social disruptiveness of the hero, a fundamental quality Hughes-Hallett detects in all her subjects. Yet, she argues, heroes also have an aura that can often redeem defeat or disunity. Hence the willingness to excuse what are defects in ordinary mortals--the recidivist treason of Alcibiades of Athens, for example. Cato of Rome, Drake of England, Wallenstein of the Holy Roman Empire, and Garibaldi of Italy are also examined in these cogent reflections on the heroic character in history and literature. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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So, I could not give it 5 stars for that reason. But I did give it four because it appears to be the only book written on heroism in the past 100 years and the information found herein is valuable even if culturally skewed.
It is well researched, well written, reliable for accuracy. I do recommend it. Just be forewarned this is Mediterranean-centric and you’ll have to look elsewhere if you’re looking for heroes of wider, non-Mediterranean culture. Unless Francis Drake really gets you excited. But don’t expect Beowulf or Sigurd to make any appearances.
The book gives you these vignettes of the lives of certain heroes representative of their respective eras. Starting off with Achilles and Alcibiades all the way through to the 19th century and Garibaldi of Italy.
These snapshots of giant men and their times are extremely informative and eye-opening. To see that parallel drawn between them, and the cohesive narrative make for a really great and (at least for me) fun read. It adds a lot to the debate about whether the man makes the times or whether the times make the man. I highly recommend. :)