The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure
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The team behind the New York Times bestseller The Book of General Ignorance turns 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, “The first thing that strikes you about the Dead is just how many of them there are.” 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 subjects’ 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.
* Why Freud had a lifelong fear of trains
* The one thing that really made Isaac Newton laugh
* How Catherine the Great really died (no horse was involved)
Much like the country doctor who cured smallpox (he’s in here), Lloyd and Mitchinson have the perfect antidote for anyone out there dying of boredom. The Book of the Dead—like life itself—is hilarious, tragic, bizarre, and amazing. You may never pass a graveyard again without chuckling.
the capital. Though only twelve, Emy began work as a nursemaid to the children of a respectable doctor’s family in Blackfriars. It was here that she met Jane Powell, an aspiring actress, and the two became close friends. Then as now, the lure of the West End was strong, and when Emy was sacked for staying out all night in Covent Garden, she turned her back on domestic service to pursue a career in the theater. Starting on the lowest rung, as a maid to a wardrobe mistress in Drury Lane, she soon
broke, and addicted to heroin, and dependent on the generosity of wealthy young acolytes like Parsons, who embraced Crowley’s teachings wholeheartedly. In 1941 Jack and his wife, Helen, joined the Agape Lodge of the Order. The master of the lodge was an expatriate Englishman, Wilfred Smith, another legendary womanizer. He wrote to Crowley full of excitement about his new recruit: “I think I have at long last a really excellent man…. He has an excellent mind and much better intellect than myself.”
category comes from Aldous Huxley: “a man who consciously over-compensates a secret doubt.” This is perfect for Dalí, the boy who never escaped the shadow cast by his older dead namesake, but it might apply equally well to Leonardo, Andersen, Lovelace, or even Freud himself. The relentless drive to succeed, the need to become famous, the emotional withdrawal, the sexual hang-ups, all are present and correct. What was their shared secret doubt? Obviously, it adapts itself to the particular
mathematical law: “regression toward the mean,” the tendency for a series of measurements over time to move closer to the average point. This was a major breakthrough, especially for a mathematician of unexceptional ability, and it was to transform statistics into a proper science. There was “scarcely anything so apt to impress the imagination as the wonderful form of cosmic order expressed by the Law,” wrote Galton with characteristic immodesty. “It would have been personified by the Greeks, and
were friends of Wells’s), and the couple ran away to Le Touquet and tried to make a go of it. It lasted three months. Amber was lonely and depressed and Wells put her on a ferry back to England. There, she found comfort in the arms of a mutual friend, a young lawyer called George Rivers Blanco White, who gallantly married her before the child was born. Amber’s daughter, Anna-Jane, was eighteen before she found out that H. G. Wells was her real father. In 1912 the precocious feminist journalist