A propo­si­tion like The Eccentropedia seems like it would lend itself to sen­sa­tion­al­ism or per­haps a snide atti­tude towards the sub­ject mat­ter.  After all, the book’s com­mer­cial hook is that it is exact­ly what its title sug­gests: an alpha­bet­i­cal list­ing of biogra­phies for history’s most famous eccentrics, with expla­na­tions of what made them so unusu­al.  Thus, it is a pleas­ant sur­prise that The Eccentropedia doesn’t use its sub­jects as punch­li­nes to an end­less­ly repeat­ed joke but instead encour­ages the read­er to appre­ci­ate and per­haps under­stand the many ways that eccentrics have had an impact on our lives.

This thought­ful approach is just one of the sur­pris­es in The Eccentropedia.  Another is in the peo­ple who pop­u­late its pages.  There are a hand­ful of peo­ple you would expect, usu­al­ly celebri­ties whose eccen­tric­i­ties are part of their mys­tique (Liberace, Michael Jackson, Mae West, etc.) and his­tor­i­cal fig­ures that would be rec­og­nized by devo­tees of the eccen­tric (Salvador Dali, Ed Wood Jr., Howard Hughes, etc.).  However, those famil­iar names are seri­ous­ly out­num­bered by a lot of peo­ple whose names would oth­er­wise be lost to time.  Great exam­ples include the Cherry Sisters, who became renowned for hav­ing per­haps the worst vari­ety act in enter­tain­ment his­to­ry, and Sapurmurat Niyazdov, a dic­ta­tor of a small Eastern nation who became infa­mous for his bans, like for­bid­ding his cit­i­zens to use car radios or play video games.

Another sur­prise with The Eccentropedia is how dis­ci­plined and thor­ough the writ­ing is.  Part of this comes from all the time and study that author Chris Mikul has invest­ed in his sub­ject: he spent many years pub­lish­ing a zine enti­tled Bizarrism that was ded­i­cat­ed to the sub­ject of eccentrics.  You can see the fruits of those labors in his intro­duc­tion to The Eccentropedia, which not only defines the con­cept of eccen­tric­i­ty but also gives a con­cise, smart­ly writ­ten his­to­ry of the sub­ject in just six pages.  This intro also sets a tone for the entries that fill the book: Mikul pens his case his­to­ries in a spare but art­ful style, lay­ing out the speci­fic details that make up a person’s eccen­tric his­to­ry with­out ever laps­ing into cheap jokes or voyeuris­tic exploita­tion of the sto­ry at hand.

He’s capa­ble of see­ing the humor in the lives of his sub­jects yet treats them with dig­ni­ty.  He is also care­ful to men­tion if someone’s eccen­tric labors result­ed in some­thing that the world ben­e­fit­ted from in a social or cul­tur­al sense.  Indeed, the pages of this book are lit­tered with famous names: musi­cians like Erik Satie and Glenn Gould, the famous archi­tect Antoni Gaudi and author Yukio Mishima, to name just a few.

Along the­se lines, there are also exam­ples who peo­ple who a small­er and more local­ized but no less inter­est­ing impact on their sur­round­ings.  Perhaps the most inter­est­ing exam­ple of this is the sto­ry of “Eternity Man” Arthur Stace, whose reli­gious­ly-inspired habit of writ­ing the word “eter­ni­ty” as a bit of graf­fi­ti became an influ­en­tial part of the fab­ric of life in Sydney, Australia.

The end result is worth the read whether you pick and choose entries at ran­dom or read it from cov­er to cov­er.  Though it is time-inten­sive, Your Humble Reviewer rec­om­mends the lat­ter choice because it real­ly allows the read­er to delve into the heart of the book’s sub­ject mat­ter.  Reading case after case allows you to see the recur­ring pat­terns of eccen­tric­i­ty that crop up time and again in his­to­ry: rich peo­ple whose for­tunes fund their odd obses­sions, peo­ple who cre­ate mag­nif­i­cent­ly detailed art­work in secret, peo­ple who spend their lives as fanat­i­cal misers, those with reli­gious visions, peo­ple who per­se­vere in the arts despite a lack of tal­ent and uni­ver­sal deri­sion, etc.  Watching the­se pat­terns devel­op and explor­ing the many forms they take is one of the biggest joys of read­ing this book.

In short, The Eccentropedia is a must for the book­shelf of any­one with a seri­ous inter­est in the unusu­al.  Spend a lit­tle time thumb­ing through its pages and you’ll soon dis­cov­er there are more fla­vors of eccen­tric­i­ty than you could pos­si­bly imag­ine.

Check out an extract from The Eccentropedia here: http://www.worldheadpress.com/the-eccentropedia-extract-85–172.php