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Book Review: 'Badass: Birth of a Legend"

Badass: Birth of a Legend cover.

Do you remember taking humanities classes where the teacher monotonously droned on to the point where your little metal desk felt like a pillow? If you think lackluster educators made you miss out on some of human history's most powerful, energetic, and all-around badass figures, you'll want to pick up "Badass: Birth of a Legend." From beginning to end, Ben Thompson takes you to school on forty beings of sublimely awesome power that populate the myths, religions, and stories of our world.

You'll find commonly-known figures like Dragons, Thor, and Harry Callahan, but a book like this wouldn't be truly badass without probing the depth and breadth of human history. Did you know that the Indian hero Rama once fought an army of demons led by a 10 foot tall giant with 10 heads and twenty arms? You do now, and Thompson gives you the whole story complete with references to Voltron and John Woo.

 "Badass: Birth of a Legend" is brimming with profiles that are jam-packed with knowledge, and they're presented in prose best described as a punch to the gut. Face-melting also works, but an ophidiophobic professor of archaeology let me know that the Ark of the Covenant has that covered.

One of my favorite sections was Thompson's profile on the Russian folklore witch, Baba Yaga. If you thought Hansel and Gretel had it bad surviving an old woman with a candy hoarding problem, you'll be impressed by the hag who flew in a giant mortar, lived in a house that got around on giant chicken legs, and surrounded her property with a 6-foot fence topped by red-eyed skulls. Even though she was known for snatching up babies and generally wreaking havoc on villagers, she occasionally helped heroes the way a kindly grandmother would, only with more forced labor and insults.

Judging by the bibliography, an intense amount of research went into the book, and that shines through in every page. For those who might be concerned with the veracity of each tale, rest assured that Thomson's narrative flare belies the integrity of the information he presents. "Badass: Birth of a Legend" provides smart, jovial coverage that informs and inspires.

This book would be an enjoyable read for anyone interested in historical and contemporary cultural icons with a unique presentation, or everyone who's apt to get amped up by tales of valor, grit, and might. Even if you already know about most of the figures presented in the book, Thompson frames them in a fun and refreshing way. Certainly no one else will introduce you to Campbellian analysis of mythology quite like Thompson: "the hero myth: making other myths look like bitches since the dawn of humanity."

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