Jure Fiorillo’s Great Bastards of History: True and Riveting Accounts of the Most Famous Illegitimate Children Who Went on to Achieve Greatness is about the most famous illegitimate children who went on to achieve greatness. Fiorillo primarily covers famous illegitimate children from England, France, and the United States, with a few from other countries. These figures are discussed in chronological order, beginning with William the Conqueror and ending with Fidel Castro with many interesting persons in between.
Fiorillo’s basic argument is that these figures who were born out-of-wedlock tried to overcome the societal boundaries put up against illegitimate children. This was true for many of the people, but not all (their success in overcoming the social stigma is dependent on when and where they were born). I do not get the idea that many of them suffered too much for being illegitimate – sure some were denied higher social positions, but they made up for this in their success in other areas. For example, although Leonardo Da Vinci was denied a vocation in his father’s field of work, he succeeded beyond all measure in his other pursuits.
I have read some reviews that have questioned Fiorillo’s choices – why she choose one person from a time period rather than another – but I do not think this is an issue. I take this book as a general overview of pivotal illegitimates from history (although a very select group from limited points on the globe). One reviewer questions why she choose Alexander Hamilton over Thomas Paine – the argument being that Paine had more of an impact on the American Revolution than Hamilton did. However, I would argue Hamilton had a more profound effect on early American government than Paine did, thus a more lasting impact.
Finally, Fiorillo’s style of writing is easy to follow and understand. She writes clearly and concisely. The amount of information that is given is great considering the limited space for each person.