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The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

3.24  ·  Rating details ·  818 Ratings  ·  163 Reviews
This book lists and describes the narratives surrounding 101 fictional characters.
Paperback, 317 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1990)
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Jan 04, 2009 rated it did not like it
Supposedly a discussion of “How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History”—to quote the rather lengthy subtitle—this book instead presents 101 explanations of who 101 characters are—there’s almost no analysis at all of why they are important or how they did any of the things the subtitle loftily claims. I could have gleaned the same information by clicking around to 101 random Wikipedia entries. The W ...more
Dec 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I thought this might be an interesting read, if it went into why and how these 'most influential people who never lived' have impacted us, but it turned out to be quite disappointing. The list is interesting in itself, but the essays on each character/story explain only who the character is and where they came from, rather than how (and even how much) they've influenced modern society. There's some interesting titbits, but it wasn't what I hoped it would be.
Dec 03, 2007 rated it it was ok
Well, this book is not what it purports to be. Yes, it lists 101 characters that have influenced pop culture and, I will barely grant this, in some cases, actual history. But it spends most of its time recapping the fiction. Fine, yes, it is good to know, but with the subtitle, I was expecting the authors to, you know, back up their outrageous claims!

It was enjoyable to think about the characters and about their significance to me and my life, but I swear to you, just brainstorming what I though
Dec 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
This was basically ... how does one put this ... the result of some dudes getting together and trying to show how intelligent, witty, culturally relevant, philosophical, and feminist they are. What results is kind of the literary equivalent of a massive facepalm. Or maybe the proverbial turd that doesn't stink (after all, these guys are so great! And philosophical! Of course their poop doesn't stink!).

This is possibly one of the most haphazhard, slap-dash, poorly-constructed books I've ever read
Jun 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: insomniacs
I love book lists and list books. The best movies, the worst presidents, the best science fiction, the worst rock and roll songs… Lists are interesting and they are fun.
So, the 101 most influential people who NEVER lived? Must be a winner.

Or maybe not…

Actually the list is ok; wide-ranging, some surprises, good choices and bad, pretty subjective and open to debate. Exactly what you would want from such a list.

But the writing… When the authors are not interviewing their dog, Yogi, about some char
Jan 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
I like the idea of this book, which is why I read it, but I didn't like the book. I think it's true that there are many people in literature, folktales, and movies that influence us. What we read and watch shapes what we think and do. There were some interesting characters and important influences identified in this book, but it was a very random list created by the authors. I didn't agree with some on the list and really didn’t like that there was no rhyme or reason or method that helped create ...more
Well, this is barely a three star. But I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt. I enjoyed it for the light, quick overview and the opportunity to consider some major themes on my own time, but that considering mostly happened off the page. The authors repeatedly remind us that this is not a scholarly work, and that couldn't be more true. But the project is interesting, and, from time to time, amusing. There are a few essays I'd like to hand to my 11-year-old son, just as an introduction ...more
Jan 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
From Betty Boop to Marlboro Man, from The Great Gatsby to Hercules, this is a book that fiction lovers would like to have. I love fictions and this book with brief explanations of Characters succeed in making me curious and read books about them.
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My gosh and my golly was this book neat! 😄 I've never read anything like it and I loved exploring it! The book shows how icons from myths, tv, fictional characters, etc have shaped our everyday lives! It's so well written and just chocked full of info.
It's an unusual book and once finished I immediately set it out as a "Staff Pick" at the library so others could enjoy it.
I think this is a "buy book". It's definitely one I'd read again, not only because it's enjoyable, it's one of those books y
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Although I (sometimes) enjoyed the author's humor and their thinking process, and I did enjoy some nice facts about the characters here and there, but overall, too much summary of stories and too little analysis of why that character is significant to culture and what they contributed.
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up-on
It's humorous, but it misses its own point. The essays barely explain the influence, giving us general, encyclopedic descriptions.
Sep 17, 2015 rated it liked it
I found this book to be entertaining and informative- although a little PC in some areas. Allan Lazar is listed as the author, but he includes the process of selection and those involved in the ideas and "essays" submitted or arguments made during discussions that contributed to the writing of the book. I had some candidates of my own in mind for this book that I did not see (although one can argue that Mr Darcy could fall under the umbrella, of sorts, for the general character of Prince Charmin ...more
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
I give this book 10/10 on premise and 3/10 on execution. The choice of which characters to include was obviously highly subjective (the book should have been titled 101 Characters of Myth and Legend that Influence(d) Americans, in which case I wouldn't have had a single complaint about which characters were included. But really, Archie Bunker? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? And not a single character from Celtic mythology?), many of the essays were poorly written, there was (as usual with nonfiction ...more
Jul 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The authors present the 101 fictional characters that have had the most influence on our society, behavior, and ultimately our history. They explain in detail their process of inclusion on and elimination from the list. They also readily acknowledge there is room for disagreement in not only who did or did not make the list, but in how the characters were ranked on the list. They also point out that they left many popular characters off the list, because popular does not always translate into in ...more
Jan 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 52-books
I found it befitting to start the New Year’s book challenge with one that emphasizes the influence of fictional characters on our daily lives. From infancy, we are exposed to stories of important historical personae and fairytale characters. Some of the life lessons we begin learning early in our youth are portrayed as conclusions of stories that are told to us by teachers, parents and role models. It is those people who have inspired, lead, challenged, effected and changed thousands of lives th ...more
Jan 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Let’s be honest – I am so glad to be done with this book. I love the randomness and the obscure facts. I do not love how enamored the authors are with themselves and their damn dog. I think this is a good book to peruse when you’re waiting for someone or when you’re looking for something to talk about at a dinner party. This is not a book that I would recommend reading from cover to cover.

A few things that I found thoroughly entertaining from my read:

*Still cracking up from the Prince Charming
Nov 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: cannonball-5
This book holds in it the kernel of a really neat idea – what 101 fictional characters/myths/legends influence our lives and has affected history? But by the end I wished it had been written by someone other than this team. There were plenty or entries which kept strictly to the facts, ma’am but the zany asides at least one of the three authors tried too hard and most of the snarky jokes simply fell flat. There is a difference between something that is funny with the proper inflection or when yo ...more
John Hedrick
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-print
When I first came across this book I was hoping for a thought-provoking read about how we’ve influenced both our culture and social identity not only by the things we do, but by the things we make up. Sounded intriguing! And, as a college Philosophy major myself, when I learned the authors were also philosophers I expected to be in for a real treat.

I wasn’t.

In retrospect, I wish whoever wrote the preface had actually written the rest of the book. The tone set in the preface is completely betraye
Oct 04, 2007 rated it liked it
This was a very uneven book. The book has 3 authors, and my understanding from the book is that essays were written by one of the three authors and they then conferred and revised.

Each essay gives a bit of background on the character that is the subject of the essay and then generally lists the places the person has appeared (various books, plays, movies, etc). Unfortunately, that's often as far as the analysis goes. There's no real attempt to explain how a given person influenced history or soc
Milanie Howard
Jun 11, 2014 rated it liked it
This book may have been better served by being called The 101 Most Interesting People Who Never Lived. It suffers mostly for not living up to its premise; a lot of the entries don't bother trying to explain how the characters have influenced our culture, merely mentioning who they are and where they come from -- which is still enjoyable, just not what I was led to expect by the title and description.

Actually, the book suffers from a personality disorder. I guess it's to be expected, considering
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: disappointment
I felt very conflicted about this book. It should have been something I really wanted to like, but while the idea is great, the writing style really killed it for me.
I'm not sure if the book was trying to be scholarly or funny. (It succeeded a few times in being scholarly...but funny? I wasn't laughing)
Somethings seemed completely out of place, like the author's dog interviewing Buck from Call of the Wild. When it comes to humor with me, either go big or go home. I had just read a book before th
Eustacia Tan
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This fun book looks at the influence of the most famous imaginary characters - like Nancy Drew and Barbie for instance. It is (as it admits), very America-centric, so there were characters that I either didn't know or didn't think should have been included in the first place. But overall, I think the choices were interesting and appropriate.

While they do provide a list of the greatest 101 characters, the book is actually organised by genre. This may make it a little counter-intuitive (I expected
Susan O'Bryant
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived was written by three guys who apparently know each other somehow (I don't think they mentioned exactly how in the book). They got together and hashed out what they consider the 101 most influential characters from movies, television, mythology, folktales, and other sources. An interesting concept, for sure. Books like this are fun for me because I get to learn new things, which enriches my mind; and it's in a list format, which pleases my love of t ...more
Jan 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
This amusing collection of essays challenges the reader to think about the impact on our our culture and history by some people (and other creatures) who never actually lived. From King Authur and William Tell to Barbie and Rosie the Riveter, each entry includes a thoughtful history as well as thoughts on how the subject impacted our world, for better or worse. This isn't just a collection of heroes (though Superman, of course, makes the list). The authors also take issue with such icons as Prin ...more
Kristen Northrup
Jan 24, 2009 rated it liked it
A really neat idea, but by the end I was really wishing it had been written by someone other than this team of McSweeney's wannabes. The zany asides tried way too hard and the shorter snarky jokes were simply never clever. There were also fervent strident political asides that were just out of place and distracting, and that's even despite being views I agree with. Poor execution with a tin ear for context. All that said, there were some really interesting choices on the list and plenty of obscu ...more
Mar 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
The title was more intriguing than the book actually proved to be. Rather than start at the most influential and work their way down the list, the author broke the characters up into categories and listed the ranking with the short blurb about the character.

The rankings were an amalgamation of rankings put together by several people. I don't think it was ever explained to my satisfcation just why the character, or characters in the case of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, deserved their particular sp
Apr 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
The book seemed like a good read for all of us pop culture consumers, but in fact, it has disappointed my expectations even though I'm not sure if I had any before I've started reading it. It came in the end I guess.
First of all, we need to keep in mind that the '101' list of characters is writers' choice and that is subjective so it would be waste of time to criticize it, my biggest disappointment was writing style and constant writers' effort of trying to be funny with this short low-humor sen
Giddy Girlie
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Found this at a thrift store and so glad that I did! I'd classify this as a waiting room book (or bathroom book, if you're so inclined). Not so much of a novel to sit and read cover-to-cover, but a great book to pick up when you've got a few minutes to spare.

Each entry covers one of their 101 influential characters, broken into sections (movies, theater, etc.) and a brief description of who the character is and why they're important. Each character piece is only about 3-4 paragraphs, so it's a q
Aug 10, 2010 rated it it was ok
okay so this book was a disappointed for me. i just felt there was a lot wrong w. the takes on people - especially HOW the character influenced people. in some cases i felt that i was just too well read as facts were sometimes wrong if you'd read a different version of a story than the one they seemed to be using, etc.

however, the idea was a good one, and it made me think about who i would include in the list - and what i would say about the characters even if i didn't always agree w. what was b
Apr 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Many of the essays were interesting, some of them were entertaining. But toward the end I had to force myself to finish. Not because the characters were any less interesting, but just from fatigue. The book isn't even that long, but I found myself caring less and less. This is a highly subjective list, which the authors fully admit. Certain entries tried way too hard to be humorous. And I was most annoyed at the sly political digs when they were worked into entries that had nothing to do with po ...more
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