Hey, Michael Jordan, just because you're good at basketball doesn't mean you can swing a bat. And a syrupy sweet voice doesn't make you a poet, Jewel. Oh, and Paul Newman, you're a fine actor, but your salsa is ... well, it's really good, actually, but you're the exception.
Sometimes, the talented and famous begin to experience delusions of multi-famed grandeur. For all those tilting at windmills, mental_floss is here to provide the ridicule and reality check.
Prose and Cons: Mussolini's Writer's Block
While noted fascist Benito Mussolini eventually found a fulfilling career as a tyrannical dictator, his earlier ambitions were literary. Fourteen years before taking power in Italy, Mussolini penned a serial novel titled The Cardinal's Mistress for a weekly supplement in an Italian newspaper. Apparently, it was quite the bodice-ripping romance. You know, the kind filled with lines such as, "The common brutes of the market-place satiate their idle lusts on your sinful body." It goes without saying, but the book didn't do much to secure Mussolini's reputation as a writer.
Curiously, Mussolini isn't the only dictator with a weakness for romance novels. Saddam Hussein has anonymously published three, and another is purportedly on the way. None of them have been translated into English, though we hear they make Mussolini's stuff read like Proust.
Cantor Battles Shakespeare: Left Brain Takes a Right
Georg Cantor is widely regarded as the most important mathematician of the 19th century. He invented "set theory," which - in addition to making life miserable for Calculus II students everywhere - proved that some infinities are (prepare to have your mind blown) bigger than others. That's the sort of realization that can make your head hurt. And sure enough, Cantor eventually went bonkers.
But even before then, he wasn't exactly a picture of mental health. Toward the end of his life, he became obsessed with proving that Sir Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare's plays via complicated schema and hidden codes the likes of which haven't been seen outside "A Beautiful Mind."
Cantor's extensive writings on the subject aside, nearly all Shakespearean scholars agree on two things: William Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote the plays attributed to him, and Cantor should have stuck to math.
Isaac Newton: Putting the Pseudo in Science
Forget Isaac Newton's famous falling apple. (For starters, that story was quite possibly made up by Enlightenment stalwart Voltaire.) Many scholars argue that Newton's theory of gravity was the product of his obsessive fascination with what was, at the time, the decidedly unenlightened science of alchemy. Newton spent more of his life studying alchemy than "real" math and science. And without his beliefs about occult forces operating in a vacuum, he might never have understood gravity. So when Newton famously said, "If I have seen further than others, it's because I stood on the shoulders of giants," many of the giants to whom he was referring were probably cranks, pseudo-scientists, and alchemists.
[Note - See previously on Neatorama: 10 Strange Facts About Newton]
Mark Twain Gets Business-Schooled
Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first novel composed on a typewriter. Yet, ironically enough, the author formerly known as Samuel Clemens was nearly driven into bankruptcy by the Paige Compositor.
A massive typesetting machine with 18,000 moving parts, the Compositor was a complete commercial failure. Twain invested at least $190,000 and 14 years worth of anxiety into the invention and came away with two prototypes, neither of which worked for very long.
All was not lost, though. One of those prototypes was willed to Columbia University, which donated it to a scrap metal drive during World War I. That means the Compositor became bullets ... and finally served a purpose.
The article above appeared in the Scatterbrained section of the Sept - Oct 2005 issue of mental_floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.