This is without doubt the most awesome book I'll read this year. From Kali to Skeletor, Thompson explores what makes icons of bassitude in our culture. His research will astound you (the works cited pages are jaw dropping), the academic presentation will convince you, and the humor and over-the-top exploits of all those included will keep you laughing and referring back to specific passages long after you've finished reading.
The book is divided into four sections: Gods, Goddesses and other Celestial Kickass Beings, Heroes Heroines and other Over the Top do Gooders, Villains, Sorcerers, Antiheroes, and Merciless Bastards, and Monsters, Fiends, Hellspawn and Worse. Personalities mentioned span the range of mythological beings, fictional characters, Biblical titans, and silver screen showstoppers. The most immediately catching issue is the inclusion of some characters in certain categories. Gilgamesh is presented as a bad guy--and perhaps rightly so--while Dirty Harry and Diomedes, and all those they killed in the stories that fashioned their awesomeness are 'heroes.' The best and most interesting of grey area came in the first section involving deities where all were presented as neutral in terms of morals.
I've gained new respect for Zeus and Thor, the former of whom I always thought to be boring while the latter had never previously impressed me. While it's nice to be given reason to appreciate old hats, better still was the discovery of so many unknown-to-me badasses. Rama, Oya, Bradamant de Clairmont and others all left their mark. Additionally Thompson provides a ridiculous amount of information of similar beings of different cultures, regional variations on popular myths, background and context that is nothing short of staggering.
Not everyone lives up to the title (and it is with no small measure of fear that I call them out). You're only as badass as the opponent you take out and so Mr. T, King Minos, Professor Moriarty, Finn McCool, and Captain Kirk came up a bit short, not because they weren't awesome but because they were being held in the same light as Beowulf, Darth Vader and Sir Mordred. Other's like Surt have unrealized potential because we have to wait until Ragnarok to see them in their full glory, by which time we'll all be dead… I'll send a message through the proper channels to the author (not my blog) but we need a definitive measure: that's right, a NCAA basketball, single elimination Clash of the Tightest to determine who is the baddest badass of all time.
I couldn't read it straight through; it's not that kind of book. A chapter here and there, a lot of laughs in between and some truly inspiring exploits and you'll be tempted to craft the legend of your own personal badass on paper. I plan to read the other book in this series. I hope Thompson writes many more with more of the non-traditional badasses like the previously mentioned Moriarty. Even if you're not a fan of humor sites such as cracked I can't imagine someone not liking BADASS. Oh, and as for the tournament I suggested, all smart money bets point toward Samson who not only "pulled it (a lion) apart with his bare hands like it was a piece of paper made out of beef" but also managed to kill a hundred men with a donkey's jaw bone and The Archangel Michael, aka "The Chief Justice of Wrecking Evildoers' Faces" who wasn't content to "curbstomp the the Prince of Darkness into the ground with a sandaled foot" but proceeded to power-bomb the arch-nemesis of the three abrahamic religions spine-first into a fire hydrant. Internet humor, pop culture awareness, and video games knowledge will increase your enjoyment, but all you really need to do is read the words on the page to be blown away by BADASS The Birth of a Legend.