At first thoroughly entertaining and engaging, but soon becomes something of a slog as Bryson's narrative throughline unravels and the book becomes a jumbled collection of anecdotes and profiles. Bryson's writing style is as charming as ever but it can't support the exhausting add-a-pearl style of the book's second half, which peters out and ends, unceremoniously, with a series of what are essentially obituaries for the people featured that, at best, underlines the capricious nature of fate (about half died miserably in forgotten poverty) and at worst feels lazy and inconclusive. It also has the feel of a book meant to sit by the toilet, as Bryson repeats facts and has an irritating habit of ending segments with phrases like "little did they know, this was only the beginning". As a whole, the end result is frustrating, particularly given the promising beginning. Not Bryson's best.