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Behind the Bestsellers: The Stories Behind the World's Favourite Books

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3.33 of 5 stars 3.33  ·  rating details  ·  349 ratings  ·  99 reviews
The captivating stories behind fifty of the greatest authors and their most famous literary creations

Before Who the Hell is Pansy O?Hara ?, there had never been a single volume that explored the backstories of so many of the greatest books in the English language. A work sure to captivate all lovers of language and literature, it reveals in short, pithy chapters, the live
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308 pages
Published 2007 by Random House
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,050)
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C.
This book takes fifty of the world's best known and most widely read books and gives a short biography of the author and their life for each book. It is quite interesting, but I've always had this thing about judging a book as a book rather than as some sort of document whose context must always be taken into account. For this reason I often have difficulty appreciating books that were written a long time ago because I have difficulty empathising with the authors.

This is something I am working o
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Yngvild
The worst written book I have read in the past year is subtitled The Fascinating Stories behind 50 of the World’s Best-Loved Books. The subtitle is misleading. Who the Hell is Pansy O’Hara? by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy is a dull compilation of biographies, mostly of the writers of school set books but also Dr Seuss, A A Milne, J K Rowling and Dan Brown.

The biographies contain much the same information you would find in Wikipedia: basic names, dates and events. The thumbnail sketches are genera
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Sandra Strange
This nonfiction book should have been a good resource for English teachers like me, since it traces the stories of "50 of the world's best loved books." Though it includes the stories of how such classics as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre came to be, it also includes the stories of such trashics as Valley of the Dolls. The part that eliminates the book from its place on school shelves, however, isn't the books it treats, but one of the small quotes from the relevant books at the beginning of ...more
Heather
This was a fun and enjoyable book to read. I not only love books, but I also love books about books. Who The Hell is Pansy O'Hara is a gem with strange and unusual facts about authors and the stories behind their novels. For example, which was taller, Margaret Mitchell or her typed manuscript of Gone with the Wind? Answer: the manuscript. Oh, and Mitchell's orginal name for Scarlet was Pansy - what in the world was she thinking on that? This is the type of book I tend to pick up when I'm in betw ...more
Kirsti
"All I want to be is the Jane Austen of south Alabama." --Harper Lee

Great title, good book. I never knew that John le Carré's dad was a con man or that Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather to pay off hospital bills from a gallbladder operation.

This book kept me entertained on a train trip from Glenview, Illinois, to Red Wing, Minnesota.
MLE
Interesting facts, but a little limited in scope. For a book that claims to be about the world's best-loved books the world seems to consist mostly of Eupoe, and North America.
Julia
Not a lot of new information and no new insights about inspirations for characters.
Richard Martin
A chronological concordance of brief biographical essays presenting the background to forty fiction and ten non-fiction books. Each begins with a passage from the work. Following introductory paragraph(s), the biography begins (rather tediously) with "Blank Blank was born...." Savingly, many include quotations from the author or other source providing some insight into perspectives of the book discussed. One such deals with the preferred pronunciation of Dr. Seuss. Really. The biggest drawback i ...more
Evanston Public  Library
Here are the stories behind the stories. Bond and Sheedy, journalists and free-lance writers in Australia, conceived this project during a dinner table discussion when they wondered what it was that made a particular work an amazing piece of literature and an enduring favorite. For any of the 50 works included in this book you can easily find reams and reams written about the work itself—character studies, plot development, historical context, critical reviews, you name it. What these two wanted ...more
Tracey
Over dinner one night, apparently, the writers of Who the Hell is Pansy O’Hara? (Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy) began discussing popular books and the paths taken to their publication – and this evolved into a book about books: as the subtitle says, “The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the Best-Loved Books”. It’s a great idea, which is why I ordered the book from paperbackswap – there have to be hundreds of stories out there about the trials and tribulations and mutations and evolutions of hundre ...more
Rachel
Well, it seems that New Criticism may finally be on its way out. Here is a book proclaiming that it's silly to look at the text only -- that really, the only way to truly understand the value of a text is to figure out what was going on in the author's life at the time the text was written.

We have, then, a book of mini-biographies of the authors of 50 compelling fiction and non-fiction works. While the book purports to contain biographies of the texts themselves, providing background for and ins
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Kristine
Thank heavens for rewriting. Yes, in Margaret Mitchell’s beloved Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara was originally named – ahem –Pansy! If you like learning odds and ends like this about well-known books and their authors, perhaps you’d enjoy WHO THE HELL IS PANSY O’HARA? by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy.

The authors penned a few pages for each of fifty fiction and non-fiction books (with familiar titles).

The books are presented in order of publication date in two sections: fiction and then non
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Samantha
I love the idea of the story behind the story. I couldn't wait to get this book and even bumped it up my reading stack. However, I found it hard to get into. It takes the top 50 books written in the author's opinion and breaks them down. In the introduction, the author states what they are trying to accomplish. I found the book fell short of these goals. First, the book tells you about the author of the particular book. For instance, what is going on throughout their life and then tells you abou ...more
Kristen
If you've ever wondered about how some of literature's best loved, most lauded, or, in some cases, most notorious books came to be, this is the book for you!

The authors have researched, and provide the back stories of 50 of the titles most avid readers have read, or at least heard of.

Who were the authors, and what made them write their book? What did the authors have to go through to get their book published? What was the reaction to the book before, and after it was published? Where is the aut
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Heather Browning
I think this would work best as a companion to your favourite books - to pick up and read a chapter or two; it didn't stand so well in a dedicated read-through. There were a few interesting facts - I didn't know that Guinness World Records was actually owned by the beer company - but for the most part it was a series of fairly mundane biographies. As a writer, you sometimes feel like there must be some secret possessed by those who are successful, but their generally average lives show that it's ...more
Reba
As with any definitive claim, there is room for debate as far as "50 of the World's Best-Loved Books". This was an interesting selection of books, and I agree that some of the selections are indeed loved worldwide, but I don't know about all 50. I did find the non-fiction selections especially interesting. All that aside...there was nothing groundbreaking here, but I did glean some snippets of trivia and ephemera.
Jackie
This is a very strange book with short essays explaining how a particular author came to write a particular book. The strangest part to me is which 50 books are chosen as “50 of the World’s Best-Loved Books”. There are some that are obvious, the classics that everyone had to read at school but other titles confuse me. How Winnie the Pooh, Casino Royale, Frankenstein, The Valley of the Dolls and Pride and Prejudice ended up on the same list as The Cat in the Hat and Roots is very confusing. The b ...more
Angie
Have you ever wondered about the lives of some of your favorite authors or how they came up with the ideas for their books. Well then this book is for you. Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara? is a fascinating look at 50 of the best loved books. Chapter range from Pride and Prejudice to The War of the Worlds to Harry Potter. We get short bios of all the authors and then the story behind their most popular and known books. What I found fascinating was how small a world it is. A lot of these authors inte ...more
Kim
This book read mainly like a series of Wikipedia entries, and judging by the title, I thought it would also be more interesting. Out of many of the books listed, I didn't really agree that they should have been considered some of the world's best-loved books, and the authors I did care the most about (Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss...) I wish Bond had spent more time on. Kind-of a tedious book to get through, but good as a sort of reference book. I did find some of the stories somewhat in ...more
Cami
Kind of a book biography, this is a well-done collection of the stories behind...well, you can read the title.
I especially appreciated that it included a selection of non-fiction books which included the encyclopedia britannica eleventh editionOrigin of Species and A Brief History of Time
Great fodder for NEBQ questions. :)
Tamara
This is a fabulous book about books. Each chapter delves into the history of a famous book, fiction and nonfiction. The chapters are arranged chronologically. Fiction begins with "Pride & Prejudice" and ends with "The DaVinci Code". Nonfiction begins with "The English Dictionary" and ends with "A Brief History of Time".

Many of these histories truly were fascinating. However, if you are a true fan of any of these authors, you probably already know the histories, so you could probably skip th
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Andy
Tidbits about the author's life that served as inspiration for the novels they wrote. Not bad but could be more informative. 99% of the stuff I could easily find on Wiki in 10 seconds.
jennifer
This is a book of backstories to the most famous and groundbreaking books written in the western cultures over the past 200 years.
Beginning with Pride and Prejudice, this book researches how others such as Oliver Twist, War and Peace, The War of the Worlds, Peter Pan, The Catcher in the Rye, The Cat in the Hat, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Origin of Species and many more came to be written and how they became so famous.
If, like me, you adore books about books, or you like to read a
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Leslie
Although much of the information contained in this book was interesting, I have to admit that I didn't read every entry; frankly, I couldn't possibly care less about oh, say, Valley of the Dolls and don't quite understand why it was included.

What bothered me, though, was the tone of the writing. At first I thought it was just a badly written book; eventually I realized that the writers were speaking to the reader as if to dim-witted twelve-year-olds.

So, for book geeks, a lot of the details are
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Camille Chidsey
I didn't actually finish this book but I will probably periodically check it out from the library. It's pretty interesting and definitely doesn't have to be read straight through. The book is structured with mini sections (5 pages or less) describing the background of the book/author for a variety of famous novels. I skipped around to books that I really enjoyed and overall found it pretty interesting. Some things I knew but other facts I was surprised by. If you are interested in stories or pro ...more
Jenna
Really fun look into these authors and the books that made them famous. Though some of the most interesting parts to me were all the books they wrote that didn't make them famous. For example, A.A. Milne had written quite a bit before penning Winnie-the-Pooh and the authors point out that he rather resented the fact that people didn't know him for his more intellectual works, only for some nice stories about a "bear of little brain". In fact, I had trouble seeking out the few non-Pooh related bo ...more
Lyn Battersby
Okay, so what I take away from this book is, if you want to make some quick money, write a novel. Almost every book featured contains a line somewhere about the poverty of the author at the time and how they decided to write a novel. And then, hey! presto, the money started rolling in and they became rich and famous.

I'm an author, my husbands a multi-published novelist. I know that's not true.

Okay, the stories behind the stories were quite interesting, but this is one book I'm glad I borrowed fr
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Robin

Really?! Valley of the Dolls and Hollywood Wives are considered "best-loved books?" Aside from those egregious inclusions, this book is all over the place. Margaret Mitchell and Arthur Conan Doyle are brought to life very quickly, while Twain and Steinbeck are given the musty history treatment. Meanwhile, the history of the OED is presented to be uneventful in its 49 year creation. (Read The Professor and the Madman for true insight and a wild story). In the end, the title is the best part with
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Lilly G
Once upon a time, the character of Scarlett O'Hara was almost named Pansy O'Hara. Now that's the sort of dorky trivia I love. This book *should* be a book lover's dream- but falls short. It's the stories behind some of the most famous books ever written, but ultimately it felt like cobbled-together trivia, never quite took on a voice of its own. I didn't find myself inspired to read more of the list, which tells me something was missing.

On the upside, I learned that Woodward & Bernstein are
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Amanda Abright
An enjoyable read for any bibliophiles' bathroom, this book gives concise and enjoyable biographies and backgrounds of literature's greatest or most popular writers. (Notice the "or"...the book covers Dickens and Dostoevsky, as well as Dan Brown and Jackie Collins. While I knew many facts about Dickens and Austen, I learned many more about other authors and their writings. It even made me consider reading Crime and Punishment, something John has been pushing for a while. :) Altogether an enjoyab ...more
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Literary Adventure : September Read #42 Who The Hell is Pansy O'Hara? 1 1 Oct 05, 2014 08:16PM  
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Jenny Bond is an author of historical fiction whose novels have been published in Australia, New Zealand and Europe and whose non-fiction titles have been published in Australia and the USA.

Jenny, an ex English teacher and an accomplished copywriter and researcher, is currently working on her third novel, expected to be finished early in 2015.

Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, Jenny earned a B
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More about Jenny Bond...
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