Monday, January 5, 2009

The Economist Book of Obituaries by Keith Colquhoun and Ann Wroe

"A bad man in Africa"
"A brain as well as a body"
"A possible victim of alien abduction"
"A Beatle"

These are among the lives chronicled in The Economist Book of Obituaries.

Unlike most newspapers, where the job of obituary writer is given to rookies or "burnt out" reporters, Keith Colquhoun and Ann Wroe, of The Economist have turned this position into a job for artists, and, as a result, are highly respected journalists in their field.

As Ms Wroe explains in her introduction, obit writers in Great Britain began a bit of a rivalry in their reporting in the late 1980's with Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd of the Daily Telegraph and James Fergusson of the Independent.

No longer is the obituary a solemn rundown of how one died, who they were "survived by" and a stale report of careers and volunteerism.

The obits of The Economist are literary biographies. Rarely is the "cause of death" even mentioned in these pieces. The focus, instead, is on the over-all mark that each subject has left on the world. Be it, good or bad. But never, indifferent.

Colquhoun and Wroe have the daunting task of choosing only one subject each week to honor in the final pages of this publication. Though, they sometimes "cheat". Most creatively, in the combined obit of Robert Brooks ("Hooters") and Mickey Spillane told in the pulp narrative voice of a Mike Hammer mystery.

Another challenge to their creativity is selecting a mix of subjects. Among the 200 life stories in this book, you will find men and women from all over the globe. Politicians, artists, psychics, cooks, authors, entertainers, scientists and a parrot in addition to many, many people you've never heard of but whose lives will fascinate you.

These works are creative, honest, amusing and, yes, sometimes, opinionated.

Each entry is two pages (four columns) long, making this an excellent "bathroom reader".

However, if you should choose to read in bed, just be careful that you don't fall asleep with this book in your hands. At about 3 pounds, this is an incredibly heavy book. If it hits you in the head when your arms relax, you could be The Economists next subject...

Title: The Economist Book of Obituaries
Author: Keith Colquhoun and Ann Wroe
Publisher: Bloomberg Press
ISBN: 978-1-57660-326-0


Cathy said...

Loved your last comment. I'll always remember one of the patrons at the library who refused to check out books that weighed over a pound. She did almost all her reading in bed, so I don't think she wanted to show up in a book like this either!

Laza said...

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Marie said...

Sounds absolutely fascinating. Would probably also make a great gift and occasional-reading book. Love it.