Day One Reads – Mobituaries

Strawberry-flavored Frankenberry 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 condition was named ‘Frankenberry Stool’. While Frankenberry still lives, Frankenberry Stool seems to have, as it were, passed out of existence.

How can you not be engrossed in a book that features that little tidbit (or “timbit” as we Canadians are wont to say) in the first few pages? The literary version of one of my favourite podcasts, Mobituaries is both hilarious and fascinating at the same time, shedding light on stories I “sort of” knew about, and more importantly, bringing to the forefront the lives of many transformative leaders that history has largely forgotten. I loved basically every minute of this book.

Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving

Title: Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving

Category*: Biographical (though honestly, this could fit into any of the three categories)

Author: Mo Rocca

About the author:

Mo Rocca is an American humorist, journalist, and actor. He is a correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning, the host and creator of My Grandmother’s Ravioli on the Cooking Channel, and also the host of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation on CBS. He is the moderator of the National Geographic Society’s National Geographic Bee. He is also the host of the podcast Mobituaries with Mo Rocca from CBS News. He is a regular panelist on the radio quiz show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

Mo Rocca got his start in television behind the scenes, writing and producing several children’s TV shows. His first work in front of the camera came as a correspondent for news satire show The Daily Show from 1998 to 2003. He played a similar role as a satirical correspondent for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno from 2004-2008, and later moved on to more serious (but still light-hearted) roles with CBS News for which he continues to work. He has also acted in theater, film, and on television in small roles from time to time and has written two books.

How I found it: I stumbled onto the Mobituaries Podcast about six weeks ago and, in a testament to the philosophy that if you promote something week-after-week on a podcast people will buy it, decided to put aside a far more serious book I was planning to read as social distancing really took hold and make Mobituaries next up on Day One Reads.

Conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker – just two of the fascinating subjects highlighted in “Mobituaries.”

Book Jacket description: From beloved CBS Sunday Morning correspondent and humorist Mo Rocca, an entertaining and rigorously researched book that celebrates the dead people who have long fascinated him.

Mo Rocca has always loved obituaries—reading about the remarkable lives of global leaders, Hollywood heavyweights, and innovators who changed the world. But not every notable life has gotten the send-off it deserves. His quest to right that wrong inspired Mobituaries, his #1 hit podcast. Now with Mobituaries, the book, he has gone much further, with all new essays on artists, entertainers, sports stars, political pioneers, founding fathers, and more. Even if you know the names, you’ve never understood why they matter…until now.

Take Herbert Hoover: before he was president, he was the “Great Humanitarian,” the man who saved tens of millions from starvation. But after less than a year in the White House, the stock market crashed, and all the good he had done seemed to be forgotten. Then there’s Marlene Dietrich, well remembered as a screen goddess, less remembered as a great patriot. Alongside American servicemen on the front lines during World War II, she risked her life to help defeat the Nazis of her native Germany. And what about Billy Carter and history’s unruly presidential brothers? Were they ne’er-do-well liabilities…or secret weapons? Plus, Mobits for dead sports teams, dead countries, the dearly departed station wagon, and dragons. Yes, dragons.

Rocca is an expert researcher and storyteller. He draws on these skills here. With his dogged reporting and trademark wit, Rocca brings these men and women 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.

Amazon Rating: 4.2 (299 ratings – Canada)/4.2 (335 ratings – US)

Goodreads Rating: 3.54 (6,106 Ratings)

Anything someone might quibble with: If you started with the podcast and then moved to the book, there’s a little more repetition than I’d like. While the book sometimes offered information the podcast didn’t, and the podcast could be a little more vibrant (with live interviews etc.), I still ended up feeling that about 1/3 of the book was a “rerun” for me. I’d suggest starting with the book and then moving to the podcast if you haven’t been exposed to either. I also thought the comparisons between T-Pain and Thomas Paine were a bit of a stretch. LOL.  

This making fun of people in authority is very healthy. It is the difference between democracy and tyranny. When you have people who cannot laugh at people in power, then is when you’re in trouble.

“Velcro quotes” (ideas that are going to stick with me moving forward):

  • “[Vince Lombardi] should also be remembered for his kindness and compassion. A devout catholic, he became a committed, if behind-the-scenes supporter of gay rights. In part because of his love of his gay brother, Hal. When coaching for Washington Lombardi knew that tight end Jerry Smith and running back Ray MacDonald were gay, and actively protected them from discrimination.”
  • “As the famed anthropologist Margaret Mead told LIFE magazine about [The First Family] album: ‘this making fun of people in authority is very healthy. It is the difference between democracy and tyranny. When you have people who cannot laugh at people in power, then is when you’re in trouble.”
  • “William Shakespeare and Miquel de Cervantes, plus those 11 days: April 23rd, 1616. These two masters died on the same date…11 days apart. Catholic Spain had been on the Gregorian calendar by edict of Pope Gregory XIII since 1582. Meanwhile protestant England stayed on the Julian calendar until 1752, when the British government decreed that September 3rd through the 13th of that year would be skipped altogether. So this Mobit isn’t only for the greatest writers in their respective languages, but also for those lost 11 days. Here’s hoping JJ Abrams will investigate.”
  • “Between the retirement of Senator Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi in 1880 and the election of Edward Brooke of Massachusetts in 1966, not a single African American served in the US Senate. A few African Americans managed to be elected to the US House during the 1880s and 1890s, but there too representation disappeared for decades afterwards. Worse still, the memory of this moment faded. The North won the war. But the South won the textbooks. Blink and you might have missed reconstruction in high school history class.”

Total Pages:   384

Total “pulled passages”: 88

Page to Pulled Passage Ratio**: 4.4:1

P2P Ranking within category for 2020: #1 of 4

Overall P2P Ranking for 2020: #6 of 12

*I break books into one of three categories in order to better compare apples-to-apples.

  • Reflective: Relies on first-person stories or insights
  • Biographical: Tells the story of an individual or organization from a third-person perspective
  • Research-based: The author(s) collect third-party research to support their discussion of a particular topic.

**As I read, I highlight certain passages/insights that really connect with me. Things that make me think “buying this book was worth it for ideas/information like that.” At the end of the book, I go back and “pull” them from the book and copy them all into a single document. P2P Ratio indicates how many pages on average tend to go by between these particularly powerful insights. This book’s 4.4:1 ratio means I felt there was a passage worth pulling out and writing down every 4.4 pages.