'Badass' Guys: Giving History A Kick (And A Punch) Author Ben Thompson's new book collects the stories of characters whom you do not want to mess with. It pulls from both history and legend, telling stories from Jesus and Genghis Khan to Captain Kirk and Chuck Norris.

'Badass' Guys: Giving History A Kick (And A Punch)

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

The Hollywood version of "Thor" may be smashing his way to box office glory, but the real Thor; the hammer-wielding god of thunder, lightning, storms, destruction, well, he's slightly more complicated.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BEN THOMPSON (Author, "Badass: Birth of a Legend"): Thor was the head-smashing Norse god of lightning, thunder, storm, being awesome and killing giants by hitting them in the face with a meatnormous magical hammer. The son of the god Odin and the goddess Fjorgyn, Thor was the defender of the heavenly land of Asgard, the toughest warrior among the gods, an original avenger, best friends with Captain America and Iron Man, and the guy who everybody called on whenever they needed some pompous (beep) ass kicked out through his forehead.

RAZ: That's Ben Thompson. He's been writing a blog called Badass of the Week -that's what it called - since 2004. And he's got a new book out. It's called "Badass: Birth of a Legend." And it's a who's who of the baddest dudes in the world of badass: Captain Kirk, Chuck Norris, Samson, Diomedes, Beowulf, King Minos, gods and heroes to monsters and aliens and, most importantly, B.A. Baracas.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The A-Team")

Mr. T: (as B.A. Baracas) I pity the fool.

RAZ: Ben Thompson joins me now from the studios of KUOW in Seattle.

Ben, let's get one thing out of the way first. Who is or what is a badass? Who qualifies?

Mr. THOMPSON: So that's kind of - that's one of the difficult questions I came across when I started doing the website and started writing these books is that, you know, it's kind of this inherent thing where you realize immediately if somebody's a badass or they're not. But then, how do you reconcile on the one hand a guy like King Leonidas? He's this great hero, he's holding the paths against Thermopylae, against the Persians. He's, you know, a hero to his people.

And on the other hand, you've got a guy like Genghis Khan, who's conquered, you know, two-thirds of the known world...

RAZ: Raped and pillaged, yeah.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah, totally. Raped, pillage, destruction, you know, giant piles of skulls. So what unites these two characters? So what I came up with was I think it's determination above all else, right? So it doesn't matter what you're trying to accomplish. It doesn't matter if you're criminally insane or you're trying to save the world or you're trying to conquer everything that's before you. As long as you just go all out for it and you don't let anything get in your way, that's badass.

RAZ: So you could say the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden qualifies, right?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. That whole SEAL Team 6, you know, they're just, you know, they get a job and they do it.

RAZ: But Justin Bieber, no.

Mr. THOMPSON: Justin Bieber, probably no, I would say.

RAZ: Here's the...

Mr. THOMPSON: He can go out and get a recording contract but...

RAZ: Yeah, not right.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah. It doesn't really work.

RAZ: Here's a tough one, what about Jesus?

Mr. THOMPSON: You know, Jesus is pretty hardcore in the Book of Revelations. I talk about that a little bit in the new book. According to John, He, you know, when the second coming happens, He's going to come down from heaven in a white robe soaked with blood, a bunch of angel warriors with him. He shoots knives out of his mouth. He takes Satan and he body slams him into, like, a giant lake of fire and then he rides off. And then there's just like birds eating corpses. And I was like, that's like, that's pretty hardcore.

RAZ: That's hard.

Mr. THOMPSON: I mean, you can say what you want about turn the other cheek and all that stuff, but that's a very hardcore way of dealing with Satan.

RAZ: What about people in public radio?

Mr. THOMPSON: Public radio, of course, definitely. You know, if you're going to broadcast my story to, you know, 15 million viewers a second, I'm definitely going to be onboard with you being a badass.

RAZ: All right. OK. I want to go back to Thor because you read that passage from your book about him. And here's who he is. Let me just play a clip of who he is:

(Soundbite of program)

Unidentified Man: Let thy warriors gather. The god of thunder shall save Hercules. (Unintelligible)

RAZ: Why does Thor qualify?

Mr. THOMPSON: So Thor, you know, what I wanted to do with the piece on Thor in the book is to not necessarily talk about the Marvel Comics' Thor. You know, everybody - you picture him as the Avengers fighting with Iron Man and Captain America, all of these things. What I wanted to do was to talk about the Viking myths, the Norse myths of Thor. And Thor in these is, like, really, really tough.

You know, there's one time these giants were pissing off the gods so he disguises himself as a goddess and go to some, like, giant feast that they're having. And then everybody starts to get a little suspicious when he's, like, eating entire oxes in one bite and he's drinking like, giant barrels of mead. Everybody's like, what is up with this lady? And he throws off his costume and just wastes the entire dining hall with a hammer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMPSON: You know, and that's pretty awesome. And, you know, and he's -you know, basically, he drinks and he fights and that's about all he does. But the tie, interestingly - I'm sorry, I'm rambling about Thor because I'm so pumped up about him - but, yeah, the tides were believed to be have been caused when a giant magician turned the ocean into mead, and he sucked down half of the ocean. That's the tides.

RAZ: Oh, man. That's - it's hard to beat that. You don't have to, of course, be just a good guy to qualify. You've got, in your book, you've got Darth Vader, you've got the criminal mastermind Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes. But Skeletor?

(Soundbite of TV show, "He-Man")

SKELETOR: Wickless fools, do I have to do everything for you?

RAZ: All right. Skeletor's a neurotic weirdo, Ben. He does not qualify in my book. He's like at least a freaky dude.

Mr. THOMPSON: Skeletor is a giant beefy-armed bodybuilder with a floating skull head on top of it.

RAZ: Yeah, right.

Mr. THOMPSON: And his sole purpose in life is the conquest of Eternia. So this goes back to that determination thing that I was talking about. He gets his ass kicked every 28 minutes by the forces of good, and he's still out there. He pulls out all the stops. OK, there's a hat that turns him invisible? Awesome, I'm on it. How do I - how can I use this to conquer Eternia? He knows. He's the villain in an '80s cartoon. He's going to lose. He's going to end up hanging upside down from a tree with his butt sticking up in the air, everybody laughing at him. But when he has that moment of power, he takes every opportunity to completely berate everybody around him in like the most hilarious ways you can think of.

(Soundbite of TV show, "He-Man")

SKELETOR: Don't (unintelligible). Find it.

Mr. THOMPSON: It's kind of a funny chapter in the book, but yeah, I stand by it.

RAZ: A lot of this book reads as if it might have been written by Jack Black's character from "School of Rock," right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: But underneath all this stuff, there's some pretty solid information. I mean, it's almost as if there's a secret educational mission going on here.

Mr. THOMPSON: Totally. Totally. And that's the point. You know, I've always been really interested in history. My dad did history in school, and he was kind of this memorabilia collector. And he had some cool, like, reproduction Spartan swords and some old flintlock muskets and stuff. You know, I never had a chance growing up because he would, you know, he would tell me: Oh, you know, here's the story of Thermopylae, and here's King Leonidas. And he fought, and he had a sword that was like this. And, oh, here's the story of the American Revolution, you know? Here's the flintlock rifle, like, they would use, blah, blah, blah.

And he's telling me all these great stories and, you know, as a teenage boy I'm like all over this stuff like action movie. You know, it's all action movie material. And, you know, then I went to high school and to college and I took some of these classes that I thought were going to be really awesome. You know, oh, the history crusades, yeah, I'm onboard. And World War II in Europe, let's do this.

But then, I found that there was a lot of literature and a lot of books and a lot of teachers who could take this amazing material and just make it super, super boring. So what I wanted to do was find a way to, you know, I'm not going to say these are definitive histories of these people, but I wanted to find a way of telling the story, like, a "Pulp Fiction" novel, and to have it be as far away from a history book as I could get without sacrificing the actual history.

RAZ: The book is called "Badass: Birth of a Legend." Ben Thompson is its author. He also writes a blog called Badass of the Week.

Ben Thompson, thank you so much.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah. Thank you.

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