From the author of ‘The Pike’ – winner of the 2013 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction – a compelling story of heroism told through eight famous lives that span from Achilles to Sir Francis Drake.
On 12 September 2001, a group of people were photographed near the ruins of the World Trade Centre holding up a banner that read WE NEED HEROES NOW. In Lucy Hughes-Hallett's brilliant new book she explores that need through the careers of eight heroes. Her subjects – Achilles, Odysseus, Alcibiades, Cato, El Cid, Francis Drake, Wallenstein, Garibaldi – were not necessarily good (quite the reverse in some cases), but they were all great, charismatic enough to persuade those around them that they were capable of doing what no one else alive could do.
Beginning beneath the walls of Troy and ending in 1930s Europe when the cult of the hero was turning politically lethal, this is a book about mortality and dictatorship, about money and sorcery, about seduction (sexual and political) and mass-hysteria. Above all, it is a sequence of extraordinary stories, each of them shedding a different and startling light on the all-but-universal craving for an invincible champion, an all-powerful redeemer, a superman, and each of them featuring a character so glamorous or intimidating that his contemporaries considered him either a devil or a god.