GODS, MONGRELS AND DEMONS
by Angus Calder
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Subtitles "101 Brief but Essential Lives," Angus Calder's Gods, Mongrels and Demons is an excellent book for dipping into at random to sample Calder's brief synopses of the lives of the famous, infamous, and obscure throughout history. Calder does not limit his biographies only to those who have actually lives, but has also tackled several subjects who are fictional, often with the same level of interest as those who are real.
Although the back cover of the book lists all 101 biographies, from Sheik Adam through Zwangendaba, there is no table of contents within the book that lists the subjects of Calder's biographies. However, since this is a book which need not, in fact, screams out not to be read in any order, the lack of a table of contents does not really have an effect on the enjoyment of the book.
What Calder does fail to do is provide an explanation for the criteria he used to select the objects of his study. Why do the supernatural beings Kali, the Devil, or Ogun make the cut when so many other gods did not. Of the famous individuals included, why are Hedy Lamarr or Babe Ruth more worthy than Thelma Todd or Moe Berg? How did Calder go about selecting his more obscure subjects, like Gregor MacGregor or Liudmila Pavlichenko?
Calder does include a short bibliography at the end of each of his biographies which allows the interested reader to quickly find sources to follow up and learn more about those people, famous or obscure, who are most intriguing. These bibliographies turn what might have been a pedestrian curiosity into a book which provides an introduction and hints for further study.
Calder's prose is not always easy to follow, and many of his biographies are filled with rambling digressions. While in longer selections, this isn't a problem, in several of the biographies, these digressions cause the reader to not get a very clear idea about the ostensible subject of the biography. Other biographies are very straight-forward and provide the reader with a clear image of the subject as well as an idea of why Calder elected to include the person in his book.
On the whole, Gods, Mongrels and Demons is an interesting book to dip into. The quality of the biographies varies, but the reader is sure to be introduced to new characters and get a different view on people who are already familiar.