Guest Review: Deadly Hearts by Michael Burgan

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This does not affect the contents of this review, and all opinions belong to the reviewer.

Today we have another guest review by my daughter Alexis, a fifth grader who would like to share with you her thoughts on Deadly Hearts: History’s Most Dangerous People by Michael Burgan with illustrations by Karl James Mountford. The following is her review, edited only for grammar and clarity, with my own notes added at the end.

Deadly Hearts by Michael Burgan, illustrated by Karl James Mountford

Alexis’ Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Middle Grade, History, Biography

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Penguin Workshop (December 27, 2022)

Length: 144 pages

Author Information: Website

Deadly Hearts by Michael Burgan is a history book about the world’s most dangerous people. Some are conquerors and some are mass murderers, but basically to be in this book, you have to have caused the deaths of many people. I’m usually into fiction, but when my mom asked if I wanted to read this, I said yes because it looked very interesting and gory, and I like history and dark stuff.

It didn’t turn out like I expected. It was better. The book had a lot more dangerous people in it than I thought, and there was more information than I thought. I learned a lot about history. There were sixteen biographies, some of them I’ve heard of before, others I haven’t.

For the people that were new to me, I was most fascinated by Elizabeth Bathory, who captured young girls, tortured them, and then bathed in their blood because she thought it would keep her young forever. I also liked learning about Attila the Hun, who ruled a whole empire by burning and killing his way across the continent. Before I read this book, I had also never heard of Pol Pot, who caused the deaths of millions of his own people.

I also found out a lot more about the people that I’ve already heard of, like Vlad the Impaler. I didn’t know he inspired Dracula. I’ve also heard of Alexander the Great and knew that he was a great conqueror but didn’t know that his father helped him a lot with his education and his army. My favorite historical subject is World War II, so I was also not surprised to see that Adolf Hitler was included in this book.

One thing I wish is that the biographies were a little longer. Many of them were only five or six pages long, and I wish it told you more details on how the person died. When I got curious, I had to ask my mom or look it up on my own. Did you know Robespierre was killed by guillotine which was the same way he executed others? Or that Tomas de Torquemada was one of the few people in this book who died of old age? Or that Atilla the Hun died on his wedding night by choking on his own nosebleed? This all would have been good to have in the book.

I really liked the illustrations. They were very detailed and gave me a better vision of the people and what was being described in their biographies. I don’t scare easily, or this book would have disturbed me more, but I think the level of detail was just right. It talked about the deadly things the people did, but these were mostly just a few paragraphs or so. Most of it was focused on their backgrounds and families and how they grew up and not really on gore. But I would still recommend this for more mature middle schoolers.

I liked this book so much, when I finished it I gave it to my reading and writing teacher, because I know she likes history. I give Deadly Hearts five stars.


Note: When I showed my daughter this book, she promptly snatched it from my hands and started reading, and did not stop until she was finished which was merely a few hours later. While I’d suspected Deadly Hearts would be right up her alley, it still surprised me how much she took to this book, considering how these days she’s reading mostly fiction. 

For those curious, the full list of dangerous people featured in this book is as follows: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tomas de Torquemada, Vlad the Impaler, Hernan Cortes, Queen Mary I of England, Ivan the Terrible, Elizabeth Bathory, Maximilien Robespierre, Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar, King Leopold II of Belgium, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin Dada, and Pol Pot.

All the biographies were written in a style that was objective, factually driven, and meant to inform. But as you can imagine, some of the details in them can be quite dark. My daughter has always been a more mature reader, both in her personality and her reading level, so I knew she’d process the information just fine, but just be aware that although the publisher/Amazon lists the reading level of Deadly Hearts at ages 8-12, I would probably recommend this for the higher end of that range.

21 Comments on “Guest Review: Deadly Hearts by Michael Burgan”

  1. Well, this is a very intriguing book, although I was a bit surprised at first by the fact that it’s aimed at a middle grade audience, considering the bloody details you mentioned. ThenI remembered a friend’s kids playing at equally bloody video games… 😉


  2. Has your daughter ever watched “Horrible Histories” from the BBC? It’s the same sort of gory history as a humorous sketch show. We used it as part of our kids’ history curriculum, and it definitely makes history memorable (though it may also contribute to a warped sense of humor).


  3. Now that I have my 13 year-old grandson staying with us – I can completely appreciate what a draw this book is to that agegroup:)). And congratulations on an excellently written review – I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.


  4. It’s great when we can find a book of history that’s both informative and engaging. I recall looking for some niche subjects when younger, often about the medieval period and arms and armor and castles and how they were used.


    • Ah, who doesn’t love the medieval period! I also remember going through a phase in middle school where I couldn’t get enough of reading about medieval history. If I’m to be honest, still love learning about that period, all the wars between the kings and queens of Europe and all that fun stuff. If it’s still on Netflix, there is a series about British castles you should check out!


  5. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 12/04/22: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  6. Great review! I didn’t know that about Atilla the Hun, that he died on his wedding night from a nosebleed. This does sound like an interesting read. I’d like to give it a try. I like these sorts of biographical snippets.


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