In this third collaboration (How They Choked, 2014, etc.) with illustrator O’Malley, Bragg profiles 14 famous and infamous characters from the Middle Ages through the 20th century.
Though the cover illustration of a prisoner behind bars suggests all the subjects were criminals, the thematic connection is looser than that, gathering together individuals who were pursued with hopes of capture for a variety of reasons. “Everyone in this book got caught for something; most were guilty, some were not,” Bragg explains. Profiles include spies Mata Hari and Bernard Kuehn, “Typhoid Mary” Mallon, con artist Rasputin, Princess Anastasia impersonator Anna Anderson, Joan of Arc, and Sir Walter Raleigh. Even the connections among those generally acknowledged to be criminals, such as pirate Blackbeard, assassin John Wilkes Booth, and art thief Vincenzo Peruggia, appear vague and arbitrary. Despite this lack of definition, the individual profiles are entertaining and informative. Bragg’s flippant tone and chatty prose style are nicely complemented by O’Malley’s cartoon illustrations. Between each chapter is a page or two of information related to the activities of those profiled and their times. One noticeable weakness is the lack of source notes for quotes attributed to historical figures. Did Dr. George Soper really say to Typhoid Mary, “You, Mary Mallon, cooking in the kitchen with icky bathroom germs on your hands”?
Readers who enjoyed Bragg and O’Malley’s previous collections will likely find this fun and interesting, loosey-goosey theme and all. (bibliography) (Collective biography. 10-14)