As leader of the eponymous Birmingham gang, Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby is the definition of a self-made man - a master manipulator, deal-maker and entrepreneur whose unbridled ambition is matched by his instincts for survival. A man of lowly birth (he has gypsy heritage on both sides of his family), he returns from the war a decorated Sergeant Major, but also a changed man, disillusioned by his experiences and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIn this\u00a0Man of Character\u00a0column, Man of Many takes a look at some of popular culture\u2019s most notable\u00a0male protagonists. We discuss the origin of the character and why they have had such an enduring\u00a0influence on the popular consciousness.\r\n\r\n\r\nYou\u2019ll also like:\r\nMan of Character \u2013 Coach Taylor\r\nMan of Character \u2013 Don Draper\r\nMan of Character \u2013 Walter White\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cYou can change what you do, but you can\u2019t change what you want.\u201d \u2013 Thomas Shelby\r\n\r\nIn the posthumously-published A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway recounts a conversation with his friend and mentor Gertrude Stein and the genesis of the phrase 'Lost Generation'. Having heard her garage owner describe his young mechanic as part of a "g\u00e9n\u00e9ration perdue", she relays this to Hemingway, adding that\u00a0\u2018that is what you are. That's what you all are\u00a0... all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation."\r\n\r\nFor those who came of age in the 1920s, a\u00a0decade eclipsed by the history-defining world wars that bookended it, there was an abiding sense that they had been forgotten amongst the tumultuous social, economic and political upheaval brought about by the end of the Great War. Yet, for Thomas Shelby, a man very much of his time, the period served not as a cause for existential malaise, but a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make something of himself and ensure the names of Peaky Blinders and Thomas Shelby would not be lost to history.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nPlayed by Cillian Murphy, Thomas \u2018Tommy\u2019 Shelby is almost a\u00a0proto-Walter White, without the self-destructive and megalomaniacal tendencies that proved the latter\u2019s undoing. He is deeply cunning and coldly efficient, someone who understands the value of compromise, but only if it does not compromise his greater ambitions.\r\n\r\nFirst\u00a0as the leader of the Peaky Blinders, and later through the Shelby Company and as a Member of Parliament, Shelby is an empire-builder of the highest order. He possesses the near-pathological thirst for success associated with the great American industrialists like John D. Rockefeller, but with a streetwise sensibility and adaptability borne out of his upbringing and wartime experiences.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHe finds a nemesis in Sam Neill\u2019s Chester Campbell, a major in the Royal Irish Constabulary who is recruited by Winston Churchill to investigate Peaky Blinders and Thomas Shelby himself. Despite a prolonged battle of wits, Tommy ultimately prevails over Campbell \u2013 the first of many such triumphs that come to shape his character and destiny.\r\n\r\nHaving piqued the interest of Winston Churchill, the Peaky Blinders leader is then saved by the future Prime Minister and recruited to clandestinely serve the Crown, proving Thomas Shelby as a man to reckoned with.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nYet, he understands that success without purpose is meaningless, as demonstrated by his loyalty to his family and his tumultuous relationship with Grace, who enters his orbit as an undercover agent in Campbell\u2019s investigation, and leaves it as the love of his life, having given birth to Tommy\u2019s son Charles Shelby. Despite a love triangle of sorts with Inspector Campbell, as well as Tommy\u2019s liasions with various women and Grace\u2019s American husband, Shelby\u2019s love endures past her tragic death.\r\n\r\nThomas Shelby is the ultimate personification of Nietzsche\u2019s concept of the \u2018will to power\u2019 \u2013 a working man driven by an innate imperative to make as much of his life as possible. Despite his humble origins and the circumstances of his life, Tommy Shelby embodies mankind\u2019s ability to overcome and achieve what would normally be considered beyond the realms of the possible.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nYou\u2019ll also like:\r\nMan of Character \u2013 The Joker\r\nMan of Character \u2013 George Costanza\r\nMan of Character \u2013 Tony Soprano\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHave you subscribed to\u00a0Man of Many? You can also follow us on\u00a0Facebook,\u00a0Twitter,\u00a0Instagram, and\u00a0YouTube.