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Author Archive: "Ben Thompson"

Badass Authors: George Orwell

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever."
—George Orwell, 1984

While fighting Nazis in the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell launched a one-man bayonet charge against a Fascist stormtrooper , bombed an enemy rifle position with a heaping dose of high-explosive grenades, survived being shot in the throat by a sniper, and recovered from the somehow-not-fatal wound just in time to escape the country before Soviet spies were able to assassinate him and leave his corpse in an alley somewhere. Do I have your attention?

Born Eric Arthur Blair in India in 1903, Orwell's family returned to the British Isles not long thereafter, and he spent his formative years attending a prestigious school, learning French from a guy named Aldous Huxley, and, like any good misunderstood teenager, getting really interested in writing, history, poetry, and socialism.

He eventually realized that school sucks, and instead of going to college he moved to Burma and joined the Indian Imperial Police because that was way more awesome. He spent the next seven years patrolling the mean streets of Burma, cracking skulls like Dirty Harry and John Shaft, protecting the populace, and keeping the streets clear of hoodlums, vagabonds, ruffians, whippersnappers, and other assorted douchebags. He spent another couple years scratching out a living in London and France, working as a dishwasher, newspaper journalist, and starving artist, and going on frequent expeditions to the slums to see how much being poor sucks goat balls. At some point he decided that he should change his name to "George," of all things, so he did that, too. Why you would want to change your name to George, I have no idea, but there you have it.

Badass Authors: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

"One word of truth will outweigh the whole world"

When you're in a Stalin-era Soviet Gulag, merely managing to haul your ass out of bed, trudge outside into the arctic hell wastes of Siberia in temperatures around 40 degrees below zero and smash frozen, snow-covered rocks apart with a pickaxe for twelve hours a day requires the sort of badass physical and mental fortitude that most people probably couldn't generate if they were being personally pursued by a man-eating bear with a rocket launcher strapped to his back. Surviving that misery for ten long, soul-crushing years, and then going home to write a definitive work on the subject that exposes the horrors of the system to people who had been completely oblivious of it before requires the sort of freeze-proof balls that only Alexander Solzhenitsyn could have possessed.

Born in Russia in 1918, Alexander's childhood home became a collective farm after the Soviet Revolution, and he grew up learning about all the great happy fun party time that was Uncle Joe's Magical Exciting Communist Totalitarian Regime of Awesomeness. Solzhenitsyn ...

Badass Authors: Sir Richard Francis Burton

Do what thy manhood bids thee do
from none but self expect applause;
He noblest lives and noblest dies
who makes and keeps his self-made laws
—Sir Richard Francis Burton, The Kadisah

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton was a completely crazy nutjob who had more adventures on his way to the bathroom in the middle of the night than most lesser humans manage to cram into a two-week vacation inside the stomach of a still-breathing whale.  This author, soldier, adventurer, explorer, geographer, translator, linguist, fencer, duelist, anthropologist, and pretty much anything else you can ever think of –ist spoke a mind-crushing 29 different languages and dialects fluently, wrote 50+ books ranging in content and sanity from travelogues to erotic fiction, explored uncharted lands in India, Africa, and the Middle East, and was the first person to translate the borderline-pornographic content of The Kama Sutra and The Arabian Nights into English.  He also had a gnarly attitude, a glorious beard, and a hot temper that drove him to kill more people than a Dirty Harry movie.

Burton was kind of a bastard as a kid, getting into fights all the time and pissing people off all across Western Europe and the British Isles, but he also showed a super-genius aptitude for languages and cultures that can only be described as Indiana Jonesian.  So, despite being kind of a crotch-punching punk hooligan, Burton somehow got himself accepted into one of the best colleges in the world — Trinity College at Oxford.  At Oxford, R-Burt studied fencing and Arabic, challenged a couple of jackass kids to duels when they talked some bullcrap about his totally bitchin' 'stache, and subsequently got summarily expelled for a combination of drinking, gambling, and challenging people to no-holds-barred back-alley deathmatches.  When he left, he made sure to trample the university's flowerbeds with his horse on the way out of town, which kicks ass.

Badass Authors: Anna Comnena

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity… But the tale of history forms a very strong bulwark against the stream of time, and checks in some measure its irresistible flow, so that, of all things done in it, as many as history has taken over it secures and binds together, and does not allow them to slip away into the abyss of oblivion."
—Anna Comnena, The Alexiad

Saying that European women had it rough in the Middle Ages is kind of like walking into a burn ward and telling everyone that fire can get kind of hot from time to time. Unless you were really into being married to a stranger by age fourteen, producing an endless stream of hopefully-male children, crippling boredom, and/or dying of some godforsaken incurable plague, the life of the average woman — particularly the nobility — wasn't exactly the medieval equivalent of Xena Warrior Princess decapitating people with a hollowed-out Frisbee and a couple ...

Badass Authors: Aeschylus

When most people think about Classical Athens, three things come to mind — insane Greek tragedies so face-meltingly heart-wrenching that they make you want to...

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