Unruly Figures

Twenty Tales of Rebels, Rulebreakers, and Revolutionaries You've (Probably) Never Heard Of

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Pub Date 05 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 05 Mar 2024
Chronicle Books | Princeton Architectural Press

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A fascinating look at the lives of twenty rebels and rule-breakers throughout history and what made their contributions to society—in science, politics, art, and more—transformative. By the author and host of the popular Unruly Figures Substack newsletter and podcast.

Unruly Figures gives you access to the lives and often untold stories of twenty of history's most fascinating individuals. Of all the rebels and revolutionaries who have acted around the world, these are often overlooked. Whether they are a bit familiar or entirely new to you, each of these historical figures provides a vivid example of what it means to live life on one's own terms and have a lasting influence on society.

In the first collection of its kind, spotlighting a young historian's fresh view on unheralded rebels, these characters' true stories are brought to life through enthralling narratives of their feats and an original illustration of each. Even those whose names are recognizable—like Jonas Salk—have moments of rebellion that are largely left out of their histories. The diverse cast of unruly figures profiled includes:

  • Kandake Amanirenas, queen of the Kingdom of Kush (modern-day Sudan), who led an army against the invading Romans
  • Manuela Sáenz, revolutionary from Ecuador and collaborator and lover of Simón Bolívar
  • Henry Dunant, Swiss humanitarian and founder of the Red Cross
  • Elaine Sturtevant, known as Sturtevant, a misunderstood American artist who took appropriation and pop art to new heights

Dive into this collection of hidden history tales—those of scientists, artists, revolutionaries, activists, heirs to thrones, and so many more—and you are guaranteed to be inspired by how they lived on their own unconventional terms. 

A fascinating look at the lives of twenty rebels and rule-breakers throughout history and what made their contributions to society—in science, politics, art, and more—transformative. By the author...

Advance Praise

“Drawing from her popular podcast, Valorie Clark has assembled a fabulous cast of real-life rebels, rule breakers, and revolutionaries from across the globe and across the centuries. Each profile in Unruly Figures is brief, breezy, and easy to read, but packed with vivid details and in-depth information that will surprise even seasoned history buffs. Any reader with a rebellious streak will love this book!”

—Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age


“In this entertaining, insightful collection, Valorie Clark delves into the lives of extraordinary individuals whose unconventional paths have shaped history. The writing is crisp, and the storytelling marvelous. I tore through these pages!”

—Neal Bascomb, New York Times bestselling author of The Winter Fortress and The Perfect Mile

“Drawing from her popular podcast, Valorie Clark has assembled a fabulous cast of real-life rebels, rule breakers, and revolutionaries from across the globe and across the centuries. Each profile in...

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781797223636
PRICE $24.95 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

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Average rating from 17 members

Featured Reviews

This book proves once again that history is one of the most fascinating subjects. Providing insight into twenty people throughout history who took matters into their own hands to change not only their lives but the entire world. A fun, thought provoking read perfect for history buffs or those who enjoy reading about change makers.

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What an interesting book! Out of each of the individuals highlighted, I had maybe heard of three of the people before picking up the book (and, admittedly, I didn't know much about those three!). Not only did I learn about the interesting individuals but a lot of historical and cultural context as well. It's a fascinating read and would make a great gift for any history buff. Lastly, the book is laid out beautifully and is very eye catching.

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This was a great concept for a biography book, it had a great feel to it. And I had never heard of most of these people, I enjoyed getting to know them through this book. Valorie Castellanos Clark has a great writing style and I’m glad I read this.

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What is more intriguing than hearing about rebels? People who have chosen to disregard or bend the rules or even write new ones are inherently fascinating, especially if their unruly roles have been hidden from the typical school textbook history.

Valerie Castellanos Clark gives readers and fans of nonfiction a wild educational ride in the way back machine to introduce us to 20 men and women who bucked the system in one way or another and made a difference by with their own strength of character and mind. From a pirate Queen to a man tasked with making the call on whether a nuclear bomb alert was bonifide or not, all manner of risk takers rule these pages and are brought into a spotlight they deserve by the author.

The world is better for it.

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Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for giving me a free eARC of this book to read in exchange for my review!

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for gifting me an eARC in exchange for a review!

Absolutely fascinating tales about historical figures, most of whom I had never heard of. Definitely worth the read!

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I loved the choices that Valorie Castellanos Clark made in the decisions of who to include in their tales of rebels. This was a great way to wind down my day, and I'm so glad this book eists.

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I have heard of a handful of these unruly figures because I studied their history. I was frankly amazed that we even know so much about some of them. Every one of them has a story worth reading. There is a wide variety of history here, and every person was chosen because they made an important contribution to history that most people have never heard about. This would be a great book to keep around and read one story at a time and share the stories with friends.
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this ARC

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Thanks to Netgalley and the author for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book. This was pretty interesting. The title is right, never heard of any of the people talked about. But they all kicked butt with their stories. Kudos for a great book!

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Thanks to NetGalley and Chronicle Books/Princeton Architectural Press for an Advanced Reader Copy - pub date 3/5/2024. While it was not quite what I expected, it is definitely worth the time to pick up and read it. The people contained within deserve to have their stories heard and appreciated. Equally important is that they are recognized as whole human beings, containing both good and bad, while their stories are still respected. The author definitely does this and you have to give her props for this; at no point does she hide the ugly bits in order to lionize the figures in this book. On the other hand, the problem with choosing figures that are seldom discussed is that you are left with limited resources or else you have to work really hard to get that info. This unfortunately worked against the book in understandable ways. Some of the chapters felt complete but some, missing vital information or filled with "it is believed" phrases, feel more like place holders. It isn't disrespectful at all but it leaves you wanting much more, feeling like the book could have just been finished a bit more. You know? If nothing else, though, this book will give you new names to go down the rabbit hole for - people with vibrant stories and spines of steel! It should alsos inspire you to be your true self because, hard as that is, none of the people in this book would ever say it wasn't worth it.

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I received an advanced reader's copy of this book from netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

This is the sort of book that I really enjoy- small bite sized chunks that can be put down and come back too without loosing your place. I loved this one! It was well researched and thought out, and some of the people I knew something about and learned a little more, and some I'd not heard of and learned something new. I often found myself checking out other sources to find even more now that my whistle had been whet!
I highly recommend!

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4.5 stars
Recommended if you like: history, nonfiction, biographies, little known history

This review has also been posted to Goodreads.

This was an interesting book that provided overviews of revolutionaries from various points in history across the world. I learned some interesting new things and about new people, some of whom I'd heard of and others of whom I hadn't. I did find the biographical sketches to be pretty interesting. I think the author does a good job of including a diverse set of people from various cultures, genders, and sexualities. It's also fairly short so it's a nice, quick read.

My one complaint about this book is that the biographies were pretty short, about 10 pages each, and so didn't really go too in depth about the people, just gave a summary of their life and main actions. It felt a bit like a summary of other people's research, and I would've much rather had a longer book that went into more detail about each of the 20 revolutionaries. As it is, it's a good introduction if you're looking for people who want to learn more about.

I actually do have a second complaint but it's unrelated to the book itself. This was only available for download on my laptop or via the Netgalley app, but not on the Kindle. I chose the Netgalley app so I would be able to read it from anywhere but there was a watermark over top of the text in the middle of each page. Not only was the watermark over the text, but it also had a drop shadow, which made it hard to read what was under it.

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I'm a big fan of this kind of collection of minibiography. I've really enjoyed the ones Rebel Girls have been doing, and I was excited to see someone else focusing on revolutionaries and rulebreakers.

Each biography was thoroughly researched and easily readable. I ended up reading a couple of these essays to my nephew as I babysat him. One of the best things about this book was how it emphasized how human every subject was. They were all capable of good things and bad things. And the variety of the people depicted was great as well, especially acknowledging the words we would probably use today to describe them, particularly in instances of gender and sexuality, while pointing out that that would not have been the language of the time.

I think the hallmark of a good nonfiction book is how much I want to do more research when I'm done with it. And I had started a list in my notes app of things to look up as I went through this book. There were a few I was aware of, but so many more I had never heard of. I'm excited to look up these people even more.

One small gripe, is that the copy available for download had a very solid watermark in the middle of every page which actually obscured entire sentences.

My thanks to NetGalley and Chronicle Books for the opportunity to review this ARC.

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Interesting and well researched piece on characters in history that you’ve likely never heard of (literally). The rebels and unruly folks in this book span both time and types.

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