Review: 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

By | January 3, 2015
On the one hand, I’m thrilled that I’m finished with one book and actually reviewing it less than two days  in to 2015. On the other hand, I’m tempted to call this book at least 91 people too long, although that’s probably not fair.
I once overheard  someone I work with say that a website designed by a committee is a camel. I think the same can be said for a book about a subjective matter written by this many people. The more I think about it, I think “influential” might be the wrong word. To me, influence means they inspire people to act like them? Did some have an impact? Yes. But does anyone actually want to *be* Godzilla?
The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived by Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan, Jeremy Salter. A library book I started eagerly on December 31, 2014 and I finished today at the gym. Normally when I’m adding time to a workout it means I’m hooked into the book and want to finish it. This time I just wanted to finish it.

I was hooked from the beginning. Literally.
We believe so strongly in the characters of television, literature, and movies that we treat them as important people in our lives. We have to see the last episode of our favorite TV series every season; we’ve stood in line to see the latest movie sequel or remake. Legends, myths, theater, animation—it’s all the same. We identify with these characters, even if the story dates back thousands of years. We shed real tears over their setbacks and suffering.  
Despite what I said above, I’m not sure if it’s that it was too long or just poorly organized. Despite explaining their process of whittling down the list  in one of the book’s interludes, I felt that they were stretching it with some of these.
  • Cat in the Hat? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I firmly agree with the person who reached out to them criticizing even the idea of going with Buffy but not Dracula. Without Dracula, there is no Buffy. Cat in the Hat’s campaign speech was pretty persuasive, however.
  • They pride themselves on bypassing Darth Vader but included Luke Skywalker?
  • No Wonder Woman (who would have fit perfectly among feminist icons) but Batman?
  • Plenty on roman and greek gods but nothing on, at least, the three monotheistic gods? Nothing on the Vikings?
  • While you can’t in good conscience  skip Santa, I think way too much ink was spilled on the fairy tale princesses whose stories are fairly common knowledge.

Some notes and thoughts:

  • Some definitely belonged and I really enjoyed their write ups: King Arthur (but no Merlin even when they mentioned some of the other add ons to the Legend),  Jim Crow, Ebenezer Scrooge, the American Cowboy, Rosie the Riveter, G.I.Joe (although now they’ve lost their “no one of importance named Joe” claim with  Joe Biden) , Peter Pan, the Marlboro Man
  • Some probably didn’t belong, but I still enjoyed the write ups: specifically Loch Ness Monster, J.R. Ewing and Godzilla
  • Some were just bizarre: Buffy, Archie Bunker, Kermit.
  • Some bizarre in their omissions (more than that below with the near misses). Specifically: no one from the Harry Potter franchise, Frodo,
  • Some  like William Tell I had no idea were fictional and some I really enjoyed learning about like the Wandering Jew.
  • While I do think they unnecessarily gave away some plots in tv/film/literature, I also liked that they did because some made me think “Yeah, I don’t need to see/read that”. It did make me realize how deficient I am in some of the “classics”. I read what I enjoy, this isn’t school anymore.
  • In the passage on Apollo and Dionysus where they wrote about the duo’s great personal strength and power, I couldn’t help but think of Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility”.
  • Of their also rans/near misses I could have easily put the following in place of some who did make it: George Milton and Lenny Small, Holden Caulfield, Homer (eh),Lancelot, Uncle Remus

I think the biggest issue I had was the categorizations as many were so subjective or could fit within many. I think it would have read better as a 101-1 list without their interludes on process, especially that of the dog.

Between Chapters 13 and 14, they noted the following in their interlude:

The toughest part of this project is judging who is really fictional. First, we got complaints about characters people thought were real. Next, other people complained that we were using characters that were obviously fictional, as if we’d set out to debunk a few legends. How dare we include fictional characters? Others just wanted to argue. Sure, some stories are fictional, but King Arthur? Spock? This is not a scholarly work. You may have guessed from the low price, the absence of obscure characters, and the occasional bit of humor.

That pretty much nailed my feelings. If they’d had it in the intro, I might have passed on the book.

That said, the book’s reading list is an interesting one and I’ve added the following to my wishlist:

  • The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael Hart.
  • Carroll, Willard. I Toto: The Autobiography of Terry, The Dog Who Was Toto

It’s not so bad that I’m looking for these two days of my life back, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend this despite initially doing so.

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