The Book of Heroic Failures

by tirial

"The Book of Heroic Failures" was a book written in 1979 by Stephen Pile, chairman of the Not Terribly Good club - to join, you had to be "Not Terribly Good" at something...

"The Book of Heroic Failures" was a book written in 1979 by Stephen Pile, chairman of the Not Terribly Good club - to join, you had to be "Not Terribly Good" at something, and preferably awful.

The book was an overnight sensation and lead to a sequel, the Return of Heroic Failures, which chronicled the sad demise of the Not Terribly Good Club, and of course more heroic failures.

About Heroic Failures

In these books are documented the people who were the absolute worst in their fields, making this book a must for anyone tired of reading about success. However it must be noted the stories told reveal no lack of enthusiasm on the part of the protagonists - in fact quite the opposite!


It is possible to fail in many ways...while to succeed is possible only in one way.

- Aristotle

The Book of Heroic Failures 1979

Writing about successes had been in fashion for years, before Stephen Pile in 1979 sat down to write the "Book of Heroic Failures". Realising that failure can be achieved repeatedly and in many ways, while success is limited to one achievement in the field, he set out to find the very worst in their field and immortalise them for all time.

Ironically the author of Heroic Failures succeeded, bringing us the explorer who got lost, the least successful demolition attempt, and many more.


An American Issue

So why did a book so well received in the UK sink like a stone in the US? Were the Americans too interested in success to tolerate failure? As it turns out, no.

The problem is that the printers of the US edition accidentally left out half the introduction, and large pieces of content. As a result, the US edition was published with an errata slip longer than the book's introduction. US readers are advised to get their copy from the UK edition at (linked on the left) - not least because it's usually only 1p!

In the other words, in the US the Book of Heroic Failures, was a heroic failure...

The Return of Heroic Failures

The Sequel

Returning to the field of his 1979 magnum opus, Stephen Pile covers more heroic failures and the sad fate of the Not Terribly Good Club (forced to declare themselves a shameful success because too many people wanted to join, they disbanded).

Well reviewed, it is unfortunately out of print, although second hand copies can be prized out of their owner's fingers on Amazon and

Failing at Failing...and not in a good way

Another Heroic Failure - Actually a reprint and re-write

Deciding that adults had no lock on failure, Penguin decided to re-release the book, re-written for a young audience. As many reviewers quickly pointed out this was not the original book, many saying that it lacked the charm and wit from the first edition even if it shared the title. You could say it was a failure at being a heroic failure.

Note that the UK rating gives it three stars, while the US Amazon reviewers give it five. Possibly relief at seeing the whole introduction for the first time?

The Not-Terribly-Good Club

The Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain had a simple concept - to join you have to be not Terribly Good at something. Given British understatement, this was a polite way of saying awful. Stephen Pile was its chairman.

After the first edition of the Book of Heroic Failures was published Stephen Pile was forced to resign as chairman in disgrace, as the book had become a success (and allegedy because he showed "Shameful competance"). Shortly afterwards the club wound up. They had received over thirty thousand membership applications and therefore concluded that they were failures at being failures.

More Information from h2g2...

Wrong again, Dan!

A special mention for Dan Raschen

Heroic failures includes the chronicles of the gentleman who, (among other such events in an illustrious career), was in the process of doing demolitions work and moored his boat to the section of reef he was about to blow up...

Dan Raschen, the previously mentioned soldier, went about his missions with much enthusiasm, but somewhat less success. He has written a series of memoirs, beginning with "Wrong Again, Dan!" which chronicle his time in the forces and the various events and occasional mishaps that occurred. After all, given his delicate handling of explosives, this is obviously the chap who should be assigned as a diplomatic attache...

A Cascade of Failure

Following the success of the original book, there were a rush of spin-off bearing its name. The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures, A Selection of Heroic Failures, and more.

I can't recommend these. I did make the mistake of picking one up, but the cases in it appeared to have been cribbed from the web, the charm and variety of the original was missing, and the range of failures was slightly lacking.

You're better off with the original two.


Updated: 02/02/2015, tirial
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