How they Choked:  Failures, Flops and Flaws of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg.

Did you know the only reason Marco Polo is famous for being an explorer is because he spent time in jail? Or that Isaac Newton poisoned himself to the point of insanity while trying to turn lead and mercury into gold? These stories and more epic failures of the epically famous are told in How They Choked.

Marco! It’s true that Marco Polo was a famous explorer, but he overestimated his abilities. His inflated ego unfortunately led him to believe he could defeat an army when he was clearly outnumbered. He was arrested as a prisoner of war and while in jail he spent time with a historian and writer. Marco Polo passed the time by telling amazing stories of his travels on the Silk Road and being sort of adopted by Kublai Khan. The historian turned those stories into a book called Description of the World (also known as His Travels). It was written 150 years before the printing press was invented and even so was hugely popular and translated into many languages. And now people all over the world hide from people shouting Marco from pools.

Even though the genius Isaac Newton lived into his 80s he was insane by the time he was 50 from practicing alchemy, which was very illegal. Alchemy is the “science” of turning common metals into gold. Even though it doesn’t work, it was still against the law to try. Newton was a strange guy in many ways, but trying to get rich quick, er um, slowly since he tried and failed for 25 years, made him all the more strange when lead and mercury poisoning turned his brain into mush. Perhaps his lack of social skills hid his madness, but take a lesson from Newton and don’t try this at home.


Reviewed by Annica CLP-West End


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