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Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Book of Heroic Failures. The Offical Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain. Stephen Pile. Routledge & Kegan Paul. (1979)

While success is rightly celebrated, failure is much more common if rather overlooked. This glorious volume celebrates some of hard won failures that represent a far greater share of all human activity than succeeding does. Stephen Pile has assembled a wonderful array of truly heroic failures, ones which took dedication, hard work, persistence in the face of the obvious and a significant element of luck to pull off.
Stephen Pile divides the book into sections and provides compelling and utterly hilarious evidence that there is nothing that cannot be done really badly, from crashing a a space probe due to a minus sign being omitted from the instructions, to the Indiana General Assembly legislating in 1897 that the the value of PI was four, an error that would mean that a pendulum clock would gain fifteen minutes every hour to a bank robber who gave written instructions that the money should be put in a paper bag and fled the bank when the cashier wrote back that he did not have a paper bag.
The book is written without malice or sadistic glee, Stephen Pile does not list failures that have lead to death or destruction, the failures rooted in geed or corruption. This is a very deliberately light hearted book that delights in absurdity and pomposity and the unintended consequences of the best of intentions. It is fantastically funny and quietly comforting, an enduring pleasure.

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