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

The Norse thunder god Thor, with his two goats.
The Norse thunder god Thor, with his two goats.

Marvel Comics hero Thor smashed his way to the top spot at the box office this past week, but author Ben Thompson says you don't need to go to the multiplex to appreciate the Norse god of thunder.

The original Norse myths provide plenty of excitement on their own, Thompson says. "There's one time, these giants were pissing off the gods, so he disguises himself as a goddess, and goes to some, like, giant feast that they're having," he gushes. "And then, he throws off his costume and just wastes the entire dining hall with a hammer."

Thompson's new book, Badass: The Birth of a Legend, collects the stories of characters whom you do notwant to mess with. It pulls from both history and legend, telling stories from Jesus and Genghis Khan to Captain Kirk and Chuck Norris.

Reading Badassactually gives you a decent grounding in history, literature and mythology. Thompson tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered, that his book has a not-so-secret educational mission.

"I've always been really interested in history," he says. His own father brought the past to life for Thompson with a collection of replica weaponry like Spartan swords and flintlock muskets.

"I never had a chance, growing up," Thompson says, "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.'" But when Thompson started taking history classes in high school and college, he says, the experience was disappointingly boring.

"I wanted to find a way of telling the story like a pulp fiction novel," he says. "To have it be as far away from a history book as I could get without sacrificing the actual history."

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