Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Badass" review by Richard C Shaffer

I remember the first time I read an article by Ben Thompson, author of Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters, and Military Commanders to Ever Live.

I was on a website called Bullshido, all about martial arts and specifically targeting the difference between good martial arts schools/styles and bad ones. Within their forum there was a section written by a man known as Phrost. It was called Badass of the Month, and it was the October 2009 article on Captain Mad Jack Churchill.

Now I don’t actually know if Phrost and Ben Thompson are the same person, but when I found Mr. Thompson’s book in early 2010, I saw several similarities. Mr. Thompson runs the website Badass of the Week.com. If they are not the same, they have similar influences.

Unlike his website, (which has Darth Vader, the Hanta Virus, Ivan Drago, The Movie Starship Troopers, and the B-2 Bomber on it) Badass: The Book, has 350 pages of, as Mr. Thompson calls it, Badassitude. Real, historically accurate, badassitude.

The book is a series of short biographies about 40 people who exemplify Mr. Thompson’s definition of Badassitude. That definition is summarized in his introductory chapter by the following line: “These men and women were all aspiring to different things, but every character highlighted in these pages went balls-out after what they wanted, never backed down, and didn’t stop until they’d achieved their goals, however honorable to nefarious they may have been. In the end, that kind of determination, drive, and will is what really forges true badasses.”

Although written in a profane and misogynistic style, Mr. Thompson uses the politically incorrect motifs of his writing to enhance the humor and shock value of the historical incredibility of these people.

When Chapter One is a Pharaoh of Egypt and Chapter Forty is an Israeli Commando Leader, you know that everything in-between has to be profound, profane, and unbiased. And Mr. Thompson succeeds at this.

Mr. Thompson, a Florida State Cum Laude in History and Political Science, backs his facts with a comprehensive bibliography, in case anyone wants to denounce his mastery of entertaining trivia.

As for the articles themselves, they are very entertaining, although at times it becomes a little hard to distinguish fact from hyperbole. These cases are especially brought to light in chapters where what sounds outlandish for a modern-day person is the truth of the exploits of a man of antiquity; but Mr. Thompson can hardly be blamed for that.

The book doesn’t always differentiate between cold-hard fact and ancient myth, but when dealing with someone like Wolf the Quarrelsome who was only mentioned by name in historical texts twice, it does make sense and aids the entertaining story Mr. Thompson creates.

I would have liked to see a few other people brought into the feature, such as Guan Yu or Lu Bu, maybe Sgt. York, and perhaps even Hua Mulan or a few of the members of the 108 Outlaws of Chinese classic Water Margin. A few samurai besides Tomoe and Musashi would have been nice, too, like Torii Motoada or Yamanaka Shikanosuke Yukimori. But I suppose there’s always room in the sequel.

And like I said before, a feminist would burn her bra at some of the more misogynistic lines in the book. However that would be her loss for not reading the actual articles, especially the ones for Tomoe Gozen and Irina Sebrova, women who show up some of the men on the list. Mr. Thompson doesn’t shy away from that fact.

One strange chapter was that of Nikola Tesla, which made me fear the book was about to droop to the mundane, but Mr. Thompson is able to bring out the light of Tesla and put him on-par with the likes of Genghis Khan and Drac—err, Vlad the Impaler. Nothing quite like a man who can make you really believe the original Dracula is more fearsome than the literary one.

All in all, it is a very entertaining and imaginative account of historical awesomeness, all written in an insanely amusing and informative style.

If you have a weak heart or aren’t willing to look between the lines of his political incorrectness, Mr. Thompson’s writing style will definitely put you off. But it would be your own fault for not realizing just how funny and brilliant he is!

I fell into an advanced reading copy, which I got for free, from a friend in the newspaper industry who thought I would enjoy the book. And the best way I can describe this book is to say that I still bought a final copy of it. The review copy I had was missing a few of the 80+ quality illustrations that would eventually make it into the final product and a few of the articles ran off the page.

The illustrations, by the way, are done very nicely as a precursor to each chapter to give a visual feel of the character in question. As well there are several little illustrations at the bottom of the pages which are pretty fancy. They come from the minds, and the hands, of Steve Belledin, Miguel Coimbra, Thomas Denmark, and Matt Haley.

Even with the ARC limitations, I still downright loved the book enough to go out and pay $17 for a final copy of my own. Of course, its for sale on Amazon for $12 now, but I still wouldn’t have wanted to wait this long to get my hands on it.

Paying $17, when you can just wait a year to get it for $12, or simply live with the sub-par free version you got? I’m sure Mr. Thompson would agree that wouldn’t be very badass of me.

~Richard C Shaffer