I saw this book — Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers — on the shelf of the public library and grabbed it quickly on the way out. Sort of an impulse buy. I’m glad I did. James Gulliver Hancock, an artist, has created a wonderfully illustrated book of, as the title says, many people with big dreams.
But it is the subtitle that says it all: Portraits of 50 Famous Folks and All Their Weird Stuff. This is not a typical biographical book. Rather it is a sort of sketch book, in which Hancock devotes a single page to one of the 50 folks, and weaves a sketch map of ideas, noting quirks and little known facts about them.
We learn about Helen Keller’s glass eyes, and about Buzz Aldrin struggling to get the flag on the moon, and about Billie Holiday dying with 70 cents to her name, and Salvador Dali’s fear of bugs, and about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s song entitled “Kiss My Arse,” and about Marie Curie’s notebooks still being radioactive, and (personally) that one of Babe Ruth’s wives has the same last name as me. (That was of interest to my son, who know wonders is maybe we are related to the Babe.)
I also appreciated that Hancock has shared a pretty diverse list of people to focus on, from Margaret Thatcher to Louis Armstrong to Coco Chanel to Bonnie & Clyde to Ghandi to Muhammad Ali, and more. I guess you could criticize this very diversity by saying no single theme emerges, but I appreciated the surprise of not knowing what the next page would bring.
And Hancock gives himself over to his art at the last page, too, making fun of his own foibles and quirks, showing that not even the writer is immune to the strange ways we live our lives.
Peace (in all of its quirkiness),