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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How They Choked


Georgia Bragg's How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous (a companion to How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous) will definitely be off the shelf when school begins. The readers in my house commented on the gruesome cover (a skeleton with an RMS Titanic life preserver around its neck), wondering why I was reading a book like that. Soon, though, the book went missing from the last place I had been reading it. Others became engrossed in the 14 stories of failures and flaws of famous folks like Isaac Newton, George Armstrong Custer, Queen Isabella of Spain, and Montezuma.

In her introduction, Bragg writes that "juicy failures don't often make it into biographies because sometimes historians lose sight of the fact that their subjects were human beings. Real people make mistakes (even historians)." With that in mind, reading about the featured famous people becomes an anticipation of doom. What did Susan B, Anthony do to bring about failure? I thought Thomas Edison was the most famous inventor in U.S. history. Wasn't Amelia Earhart a skilled aviator? Reading the sometimes surprising truths revealed more than the biographies I have previously considerd thorough! 

Each chapter begins with the biographical facts about the noteworthy people. The author's witty, forthright style prevails as she describes the actions and events that brought them fame but also the ways their tragic flaws led to disappointment and worse. Bragg finishes with "One More Thing", a section of advice for how to work through the inevitable mistakes and failures we are bound to encounter in life and with a thorough list of sources for each of the subjects in this collective biography. 

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