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From Santa Claus to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from Uncle Sam to Uncle Tom, here is a compelling, eye-opening, and endlessly entertaining compendium of fictional trendsetters and world-shakers who have helped shape our culture and our lives. The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived offers fascinating histories of our most beloved, hated, feared, and revered invented icons and the indelible marks they made on civilization, including:

# 28: Rosie the Riveter, the buff, blue-collar factory worker who helped jump-start the Women's Liberation movement

# 7: Siegfried, the legendary warrior-hero of Teutonic nationalism responsible for propelling Germany into two world wars

# 80: Icarus, the headstrong high-flyer who inspired the Wright brothers and humankind's dreams of defying gravity . . . while demonstrating the pressing need for flight insurance

# 58: Saint Valentine, the hapless, de-canonized loser who lost his heart and head at about the same time

# 43: Barbie, the bodacious plastic babe who became a role model for millions of little girls, setting an impossible standard for beauty and style

Topics: Film, Mythology, Literary Studies, Television, Writing, Media Studies, Social Studies, Informative, Literary Criticism, and Essays

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061738135
List price: $9.99
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I thought this might be an interesting read, if it went into why and how these 'most influential people who never lived' have impacted us, but it turned out to be quite disappointing. The list is interesting in itself, but the essays on each character/story explain only who the character is and where they came from, rather than how (and even how much) they've influenced modern society. There's some interesting titbits, but it wasn't what I hoped it would be.more
A great idea, an interesting book, but it still disappoints on several levels. Firstly, there are several characters I had never heard of; the book is written by Americans, I am British, and in years gone by quite a bit of American culture did not make it across the pond. It made me feel a tad left out- surely I should have heard of characters who are ranked in importance alongside the protagonists of Greek myths, Shakespearean plays and classic films from the last century!I am undecided on the ranking process. Some of the choices seem a little bit odd, but then I like the quirkiness of some of the others. This book would be a good choice for the bathroom library- great to dip into, learn an interesting fact about someone from our culture, and then put it down again. It is not a scholarly work, and is to be taken lightheartedly.more
The authors present the 101 fictional characters that have had the most influence on our society, behavior, and ultimately our history. They explain in detail their process of inclusion on and elimination from the list. They also readily acknowledge there is room for disagreement in not only who did or did not make the list, but in how the characters were ranked on the list. They also point out that they left many popular characters off the list, because popular does not always translate into influential.The idea for this book sprang from another book - The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael Hart.Near the beginning of the book, the authors have listed the entire 101 characters in rank order. Prior to reading the entire book, you might find yourself questioning some of the rankings just as I had. However, after I finished the book and understood the authors’ methodology and reasoning, I no longer disagreed with as many of the ranking decisions the authors made. Keep in mind that the authors tried to rank each character’s overall influence, not the influence a particular character had on the authors’ personal lives.The book also includes an appendix, which is an alphabetical list of twenty “also-rans and near misses.” Throughout the book, in the category/chapter introductions, and the interludes the reasons why some characters were left off the list are discussed.I really enjoyed the way the characters were broken up into 17 different categories, with a corresponding chapter for each category (i.e. movies, folk tales, propaganda, stereotypes, legends, etc.) The authors readily admit that many of the characters could have easily fit in more than one category, but I think a good case is made for the final category placement of each character.Each category is preceded by an introduction. There are also five “interludes,” in which the character selection and writing process of the book is further elaborated.I really enjoyed the humor the authors used throughout the book, some of which is very obvious and some is much more subtle.Initially, I was disappointed that the characters were not discussed in rank order (101 to one), but after I got into the first chapter, I really enjoyed the way the characters were grouped into categories. This makes it easier to compare similarly influential characters.I learned a lot from this book, including some things I was surprised I did not already know. (How on earth did I not know that Dashiell Hammett was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist?!) Connections between characters and the events they arose from and/or affected also became clearer to me.While some readers may not draw the same conclusions on whether a given character’s influence was good or bad, I found myself sharing many of the same opinions as the authors. I was actually relieved in some cases to discover, “Hey! I’m not the only person who thinks this character send a good/bad message.” I’m talking to you Cinderella!If you are a history nerd and/or trivia junkie like I am, I really believe you will enjoy this book.more
A very neat idea, but by the end I was really wishing it had been written by someone other than this team of McSweeney's wannabes. The zany asides tried way too hard and the shorter snarky jokes were simply never clever. There were also fervent strident political asides that were just out of place and distracting, and that's even despite being views I agree with. Poor execution with a tin ear for context. All that said, there were some really interesting choices on the list and plenty of obscure background details. A few selections weren't actually influential, just favorites of the authors, and that was clear from their essays (they're really neat! and so popular!). But most made a lot of sense and could provoke good discussion. A particularly interesting tidbit for me was the fact that the original version of Bambi, written by an Austrian, was translated for the American market by Whittaker Chambers.more
This was such a neat concept and could have been done with such depth and intelligence. It's unfortunate that the authors were so flippant and politically biased. (To be fair, I don't think all the authors were--some of the individual essays were excellent.) I did give it three stars because it makes a really great bathroom book--short, cutesy essays, sort of like a Reader's Digest.more
The idea of this book is fantastic. The excecution? Not so much. I was expecting a book by people who had researched how various characters had influenced Western society. With, you know, actual research and credentials and stuff. Not a couple guys sitting around trying to think up who they thought were the most influential fictional characters. I was extremely disappointed by this book.more
When I got this book, I expected to find educated views about the historical/cultural significance of each of the "people" that never lived. Why and how would they consider these particular characters the most influential? Amazingly, this book doesn't even discuss the influence of the characters on society throughout history or why they have so much staying power in our hearts and imaginations. Instead, the authors provide boring summaries of what the characters "did," or how they were created and by whom. Then they proceed to give self-righteous and condescending opinions about whether the message(s) in the story or the actions of the character(s) are appropriate in today's times. Gee, I thought that's what readers/viewers were supposed to do for themselves!!For example, we shouldn't read Cinderella to our little girls because it creates a sense of false hope that you don't have to do anything to solve your problems (fairy godmother), and that men will only want to marry you if you're beautiful. Perhaps that's true, but last time I read the story, Cinderella was hard-working, lived a difficult life without complaint, and did not resort to treating people badly even when that was the way she herself was being treated. The problem with these compilation-type books is that they can so easily oversimplify and fall into the trite.Of course I was not expecting objectivity. The very nature of a book of this type is one person's biased viewpoint (or in this case two people). I did, however, expect a literary and cultural analysis, as well as perhaps some humor or interesting perspectives. NOT!This book seemed to me like a brazen attempt for the authors to cash in on the success of books like the 1001 series. My advice: save your money on this one.more
The 101 list is good but the book needed more elaboration and analysis of the influence of such characters on the society more
Terribly good book; it was very educational.more
Read all 9 reviews

Reviews

I thought this might be an interesting read, if it went into why and how these 'most influential people who never lived' have impacted us, but it turned out to be quite disappointing. The list is interesting in itself, but the essays on each character/story explain only who the character is and where they came from, rather than how (and even how much) they've influenced modern society. There's some interesting titbits, but it wasn't what I hoped it would be.more
A great idea, an interesting book, but it still disappoints on several levels. Firstly, there are several characters I had never heard of; the book is written by Americans, I am British, and in years gone by quite a bit of American culture did not make it across the pond. It made me feel a tad left out- surely I should have heard of characters who are ranked in importance alongside the protagonists of Greek myths, Shakespearean plays and classic films from the last century!I am undecided on the ranking process. Some of the choices seem a little bit odd, but then I like the quirkiness of some of the others. This book would be a good choice for the bathroom library- great to dip into, learn an interesting fact about someone from our culture, and then put it down again. It is not a scholarly work, and is to be taken lightheartedly.more
The authors present the 101 fictional characters that have had the most influence on our society, behavior, and ultimately our history. They explain in detail their process of inclusion on and elimination from the list. They also readily acknowledge there is room for disagreement in not only who did or did not make the list, but in how the characters were ranked on the list. They also point out that they left many popular characters off the list, because popular does not always translate into influential.The idea for this book sprang from another book - The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael Hart.Near the beginning of the book, the authors have listed the entire 101 characters in rank order. Prior to reading the entire book, you might find yourself questioning some of the rankings just as I had. However, after I finished the book and understood the authors’ methodology and reasoning, I no longer disagreed with as many of the ranking decisions the authors made. Keep in mind that the authors tried to rank each character’s overall influence, not the influence a particular character had on the authors’ personal lives.The book also includes an appendix, which is an alphabetical list of twenty “also-rans and near misses.” Throughout the book, in the category/chapter introductions, and the interludes the reasons why some characters were left off the list are discussed.I really enjoyed the way the characters were broken up into 17 different categories, with a corresponding chapter for each category (i.e. movies, folk tales, propaganda, stereotypes, legends, etc.) The authors readily admit that many of the characters could have easily fit in more than one category, but I think a good case is made for the final category placement of each character.Each category is preceded by an introduction. There are also five “interludes,” in which the character selection and writing process of the book is further elaborated.I really enjoyed the humor the authors used throughout the book, some of which is very obvious and some is much more subtle.Initially, I was disappointed that the characters were not discussed in rank order (101 to one), but after I got into the first chapter, I really enjoyed the way the characters were grouped into categories. This makes it easier to compare similarly influential characters.I learned a lot from this book, including some things I was surprised I did not already know. (How on earth did I not know that Dashiell Hammett was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist?!) Connections between characters and the events they arose from and/or affected also became clearer to me.While some readers may not draw the same conclusions on whether a given character’s influence was good or bad, I found myself sharing many of the same opinions as the authors. I was actually relieved in some cases to discover, “Hey! I’m not the only person who thinks this character send a good/bad message.” I’m talking to you Cinderella!If you are a history nerd and/or trivia junkie like I am, I really believe you will enjoy this book.more
A very neat idea, but by the end I was really wishing it had been written by someone other than this team of McSweeney's wannabes. The zany asides tried way too hard and the shorter snarky jokes were simply never clever. There were also fervent strident political asides that were just out of place and distracting, and that's even despite being views I agree with. Poor execution with a tin ear for context. All that said, there were some really interesting choices on the list and plenty of obscure background details. A few selections weren't actually influential, just favorites of the authors, and that was clear from their essays (they're really neat! and so popular!). But most made a lot of sense and could provoke good discussion. A particularly interesting tidbit for me was the fact that the original version of Bambi, written by an Austrian, was translated for the American market by Whittaker Chambers.more
This was such a neat concept and could have been done with such depth and intelligence. It's unfortunate that the authors were so flippant and politically biased. (To be fair, I don't think all the authors were--some of the individual essays were excellent.) I did give it three stars because it makes a really great bathroom book--short, cutesy essays, sort of like a Reader's Digest.more
The idea of this book is fantastic. The excecution? Not so much. I was expecting a book by people who had researched how various characters had influenced Western society. With, you know, actual research and credentials and stuff. Not a couple guys sitting around trying to think up who they thought were the most influential fictional characters. I was extremely disappointed by this book.more
When I got this book, I expected to find educated views about the historical/cultural significance of each of the "people" that never lived. Why and how would they consider these particular characters the most influential? Amazingly, this book doesn't even discuss the influence of the characters on society throughout history or why they have so much staying power in our hearts and imaginations. Instead, the authors provide boring summaries of what the characters "did," or how they were created and by whom. Then they proceed to give self-righteous and condescending opinions about whether the message(s) in the story or the actions of the character(s) are appropriate in today's times. Gee, I thought that's what readers/viewers were supposed to do for themselves!!For example, we shouldn't read Cinderella to our little girls because it creates a sense of false hope that you don't have to do anything to solve your problems (fairy godmother), and that men will only want to marry you if you're beautiful. Perhaps that's true, but last time I read the story, Cinderella was hard-working, lived a difficult life without complaint, and did not resort to treating people badly even when that was the way she herself was being treated. The problem with these compilation-type books is that they can so easily oversimplify and fall into the trite.Of course I was not expecting objectivity. The very nature of a book of this type is one person's biased viewpoint (or in this case two people). I did, however, expect a literary and cultural analysis, as well as perhaps some humor or interesting perspectives. NOT!This book seemed to me like a brazen attempt for the authors to cash in on the success of books like the 1001 series. My advice: save your money on this one.more
The 101 list is good but the book needed more elaboration and analysis of the influence of such characters on the society more
Terribly good book; it was very educational.more
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