Swartz has put together 100 historical figures from a variety of time periods and regions (and a decent balance of men and women) to pit in head-to-head competition in a variety of categories. Each figure has an illustration, a fighting nickname (Cleopatra “Queen of the Nile” Pharoah, Feminist, Diva), a brief biography, and rankings on a scale of ten in wealth, fitness, wisdom, bravery, artistry, leadership, and intelligence.
Readers can use the rankings and their own opinions to choose winners in each battle. The book is designed to be flipped back and forth between competitors and the 50 competitions. Random flipping can lead to some unlikely matchups as well as landslide winners (I feel pretty strongly that Shackleton could beat just about anyone when it comes to escaping from Alcatarz). Meanwhile other competitions are too close to call.
Because of the rankings, readers can put as much or as little thought into the winner of each match as they like. (I opened up a lot of the discussions by asking probing questions. “Sure, Leonardo da Vinci has a 10 for leadership. But what about his 6 for intelligence? Couldn’t that be a problem if he was trying to catch Jack the Ripper?”)
The variety of matches and competitors, as well as the multiple ways Who Wins? can be read make this a great book for reluctant readers and biography buffs alike. I have coupled this book with a teen video gaming program with great success. While teens waited for their turn on the video game controllers, they joined me making up different matches. Everyone had a good time picking competitors and competitions and then we debated who might come out on top.
Whether you are reading this book alone or using it in a group for some quick entertainment, library programs, or even a party game, the facts speak for themselves. Who Wins? is a winner for readers of any age.
I couldn’t end this review without including a some interior images from the book. Here’s a spread I made on Instagram putting Harry Houdini against Alan Pinkterton in The Hunger Games. I think the match is no contest, but what about you? Let me know in the comments.