The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous: Everything You Need To Know About Everyone Who Mattered by The Week

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The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous: Everything You Need To Know About Everyone Who Mattered by The Week

Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Which wartime hero foiled the Nazis by cracking the Enigma code? Which actor was infamous for playing tricks on his colleagues with his glass eye? Who was Britain's first long-haired popstar? The answers can be found in this highly entertaining collection of obituaries from The Week magazine.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Ebury Press
ISBN: 978-0091958664

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To describe a book as unputdownable is a pretty bold claim to make. Jeremy O'Grady, editor-in-chief of The Week does just that in the foreword to The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous, a collection of obituaries from the weekly magazine. Thankfully, his bold judgement is largely spot on.

For those unfamiliar, The Week collates the best offerings from print media outlets around the world, condenses them into smaller chunks, adds a little of its own commentary and creates a highly concise and entertaining look at the news.

The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous follows a similar formula, offering the pick of the magazine's obits since it was founded in 1997. And what a collection of people it has come up with. Chinese dissidents, actors, politicians, 1970s sitcom stars, porn barons, disco divas, theatre impresarios, business moguls, soap stars and plenty beside.

Each of the 127 obituaries comprises only a few hundred words but in virtually every one there's something that gives pause for thought. Take for example, country legend Tammy Wynette, whose obituary includes the accidental poisoning of Burt Reynolds, her abduction by a masked assailant (unrelated to the Burt Reynolds incident!) and a fantastic story about her drunken husband's hotwiring of a lawn mower to get to a bar after she'd confiscated the keys to their fleet of 27 (yes, 27) cars.

There's plenty for trivia buffs to enjoy. Who knew that On The Buses star Reg Varney was the first man in the UK to withdraw money from a cash machine? Or that Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams once worked as a bodyguard for a member of the Qatari royal family? Or that former spokesman for America's National Rifle Association, Charlton Heston, marched alongside Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s?

Amongst the more light-hearted entries are some weightier profiles of heavyweight politicians such as Nelson Mandela, Benazir Bhutto, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Perhaps most interesting though are the tales of the unknown heroes of the second world war such as Bletchley Park code cracker Tommy Flowers and pilot and Olympian, Group Captain Paddy Green.

The usually uncredited writers, Caroline Law and Tom Hodgkinson, deserve plenty of praise for putting together a fine collection.

Ideal for dipping into, the only criticism is a number of annoying typos. That aside, there's plenty to enjoy. Where else are you going to read about the founder of Germany's version of Ann Summers, the leader of the last cavalry charge against the British Army and a miserly millionaire who was mistaken for a tramp and thrown out of his local bank despite owning the building.

If this book appeals then we can also recommend Newcomers' Lives: The Story of Immigrants as Told in Obituaries from The Times by Peter Unwin (editor).

Buy The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous: Everything You Need To Know About Everyone Who Mattered by The Week at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous: Everything You Need To Know About Everyone Who Mattered by The Week at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous: Everything You Need To Know About Everyone Who Mattered by The Week at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous: Everything You Need To Know About Everyone Who Mattered by The Week at Amazon.com.


Booklists.jpg The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous: Everything You Need To Know About Everyone Who Mattered by The Week is in the Top Ten Biographies 2014.

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