Narrator: Mo Rocca
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on November 5, 2019
Genres: Non Fiction
Length: 11 hours and 45 minutes
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Great Lives Worth Reliving
From popular TV correspondent and writer Mo Rocca, a charmingly irreverent and rigorously researched book that celebrates the dead people who made life worth living.
Mo Rocca has always loved obituaries – reading about the remarkable lives of world leaders, captains of industry, innovators and artists. But not every notable life has gotten the send-off it deserves. With Mobituaries—the book companion to the CBS podcast of the same name – the journalist, humorist and history buff is righting that wrong, profiling the people who have long fascinated him—from the 20th century’s greatest entertainer … to sitcom characters gone all too soon … to a shamefully forgotten Founding Father. Even if you know the names, you’ve never understood why they matter…until now.
Rocca chronicles the stories of the people who made a difference, but whose lives—for some reason or another—were never truly examined. There’s Thomas Paine, whose Common Sense lit the fuse for the American Revolution—and whose paltry obit summed up his life thusly: "He had lived long, did some good, and much harm.” And then there’s screen icon Audrey Hepburn. She remains a household name, but how much do we know about her wartime upbringing and how it shaped the woman we fell in love with? And what about Billy Carter and history’s unruly presidential brothers? Were they ne’er-do-well liabilities … or secret weapons.
As a correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning and the host of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, Rocca is an expert researcher and storyteller. He draws on these skills here. With his rigorous reporting and trademark wit, Rocca brings these men and women splendidly back to life like no one else can. Mobituaries is an insightful and unconventional account of the people who made life worth living for the rest of us, one that asks us to think about who gets remembered, and why.
I was a fan of Mo Rocca back when he was on The Daily Show. I know he’s been on CBS, but I don’t come across him as much anymore. He recently returned to The Daily Show as an interview guest, promoting his book. I really liked what he had to say, so I grabbed the audiobook from the library.
So, Mo Rocca grew up reading obituaries in the paper. He says that was his father’s favorite part of the newspaper. Now, I’ve pretty much never read the obits. Only when someone shares it with me. Mobituaries was a really interesting take on how people’s lives are told. He not only takes on people, but also other things including dragons, Prussia, disco and more.
The chapters of each book usually focuses on a single person, place or thing. Then at the end, he does some smaller mobits for less popular, but somehow related groups. For instance, the first chapter is about dragons. Then he ends the chapter about other fictional and mythological creatures, including some which weren’t familiar to me. He did make me laugh when he brought up the death of Frankenberry cereal.
The strawberry-flavored Frankeberry was soon discovered to contain a dye that turned children’s feces pink. According to medical researcher John V Payne, “The stool had no abnormal odor but looked like strawberry ice cream.” This horrifying (to parents), hilarious (to children), and harmless (to doctors) conditional was named “Frankenberry Stool.” While Frankenberry still lives, Frankenberry still lives, Frankenberry STool seems to have, as it were, passed out of existence when General Mills tried a new dye in its recipe.
He discusses all different kinds of topics and people, from Audrey Hepburn, Sammy Davis Jr, to Billy Carter, Vaughn Meader. I think some of my favorites were the “Forgotten Forerunners”, people who made a big impact on their industry, but don’t receive as much credit as they should. Of them, Ada Lovelace and Bessie Coleman were my favorite.
Ada Lovelace, is the daughter of Lord Byron (which I didn’t know and she never really knew him because he left her mom when she was very young and died when she was eight) and was known as the first computer programmer and was an amazing mathematician, as was her mother. Bessie Coleman was an Africian American/Native American pilot. She had to go to France to get a pilot’s license. She was the first woman of either Afirican American or Native American descent to hold a pilot’s license.
I enjoyed learning many different things about people I knew and people I didn’t. I didn’t know much about Thomas Paine, who was a founding father (Bernie supporters should really look this guy up). I loved learning more about Elizabeth Taylor. He doesn’t talk as much about her career, which most people know, but more about her fight against AIDS/HIV.
I had a really great time listening to this book. I love to learn random facts about random things and this book checked all those boxes. I love how he mixed in humor, but also talked about some really deep subjects, check out the chapter “Death of a Diagnosis: Homosexuallity as a Mental Illness”. He kept me very entertained while educating me about people and things I didn’t know as much about. The dedication to his father at the end was extremely touching.
Anyway, if you like to hear about history and different facts that really won’t do much more than expand your mind, then check this book out. It will make you laugh and even bring a bit of sadness when you hear about some of these deaths, but all of these people and things live on in the stories that are told about them. I should also mention that he has a podcast of the same name I’m planning on checking out.
Listen to a clip:
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Excellent review, Melanie? I came to know Mo Rocca from him being on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! weekend show. I’m going to hunt this one down.
Thanks, Jonetta. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I confess that I don’t know about him
I don’t know how much of his stuff is showing outside the US. Thanks for stopping by, Melliane
Fascinating stuff! Great review, Melanie!
Thanks Anne. It was a very interesting book.
love this guy. haven’t read the book but it’s on my list. glad you enjoyed it
He is really great.
I really don’t know anything about Mo Rocca but this sounds like a book that I would really like. I did read the obituaries in the newspaper and love little facts. I might have to see if my library has a copy of this one. Great review!
I hope you’re able to get a copy of this book. I had such a good time with it. Learned a lot and was entertained at the same time.
This sounds like lots of fun. I’ve heard of him but I’m not familiar with his work. This might be worth a listen,
I hope you get a change to give this book a try. It is a really intriguing listen.