The team behind theNew York TimesbestsellerThe Book of General Ignoranceturns conventional biography on its head-and shakes out the good stuff. Following their Herculean-or is it Sisyphean?-efforts to save the living from ignorance, the two wittiest Johns in the English language turn their attention to the dead. As the authors themselves say, ldquo;The first thing that strikes you about the Dead is just how many of them there are.rdquo; 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. Spades in hand, Lloyd and Mitchinson have dug up everything embarrassing, fascinating, and downright weird about their subjectsrsquo; lives and added their own uniquely irreverent observations. 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.
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. (Sept.) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
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September 06, 2010
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