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Thursday, September 8, 2011

An Awful Lot About An Awful Lot

What contributes to the human propensity for recalling the names and gruesome deeds of notorious people from history? Though I'd like to claim differently, I can often recall as many details about human depravity as I can about bravery or goodness. How about you? 

For Christmas the last five years, my wife has given me a book from a series called "the Intellectual Devotional". This year's edition, like all four previous, has a one page entry each day of the year. This year each page contains a "mini-biography" and each day of the week has a different heading. The Thursday heading is "Villains"; today's entry - Jack the Ripper. Tuesday's entry (heading - "Rebels & Reformers") was for Ida Wells. In this particular case I'd at least heard of Wells. But, as usual, I learned much more about Wells than I did about Jack the Ripper. Of the other 5 entries over the past week, Van Gogh (heading - "Authors & Artists") and Alexander Graham Bell ("Innovators") were the only ones where I knew a comparable amount vs. what I knew about the Ripper. The same rough percentage applies to most of the past weeks I've finished to date. Regularly, there are people I've never heard of but, that has occurred rarely for the villains category. I seem to know and retain an awful lot about a lot of awful people.

Does this make me a "glass half empty" person? I hope not. My only consolation: I once had a good friend whose hobby was serial killers - that struck me as creepy then and still does. I've now resolved to restrict my future reading of any book length biography to those who would fall into the other six categories from the "Intellectual Devotional". Maybe I'll start with Ida Wells - a brave and important person.        


  1. Why is it creepy?
    It's also interesting to me to study the psychology of people like that and what leads them to commit such horrible crimes.

  2. Great title, Pat! I remember losing interest in serial killers when Ali was born. I have a clear memory of leaving the theater after Silence of the Lambs and thinking I would never go see another movie like that again...as far as I can remember, I've kept true to that. Maybe it was the celebration of new life that made me want to distance myself from depravity. When it comes to news about serial killers, I want to put my fingers in my ears, close my eyes, and shout, "I can't hear you!"