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Absolutely fascinating read, so disappointed when I finished it. Well researched and informative view of the history of books bound in human skin. This is an American book looking at American libraries predominantly and left me wondering how many are stored in uk libraries!
This is an interesting read. Dry but not academic. The author explores the area of books made from human skin but never finds one. So there are no photos or any accounts of an actual book. Morbidly curious.
Dark Archives is a unique read that delves into the history of binding books in human skin, otherwise known as anthropodermic bibliopegy. I was expecting some real macabre tale about why books were bound in human skin, but in reality about 18 known books have been bound in human skin and were often done so by doctor bibliophiles. These 19th century doctors would bound their most prized books in human skin. Logically, it makes sense that doctors would be the ones to have these books in their possession, since they would have had easy access to human skin back then.
While the history of anthropodermic bibliopegy isn’t as macabre as I imagined, it does raise a lot of questions about medical ethics and the clinical gaze. Unfortunately, these discussions on ethics were my least favorite part of the book and became repetitive at times. I also didn’t care for some of the more technical aspects either. What I enjoyed most were the stories behind the books bound in human skin. Whose skin was it and what was the circumstances surrounding their life and eventual death? That is what I enjoyed most about this book, the stories of the humans who made these books. I could have done with less philosophical and ethical discussion although I understand it’s an important discussion to have in light of these discoveries. Overall, Dark Archives is an interesting read but something that could have also been condensed into a scholarly article.
Books bound in human skin are probably something you haven't thought about. If you are familiar with them, you probably find them endlessly fascinating. This book could have been a simple travelogue/bibliophile excursion. It could have been a meditation on the moral implications of the world's rarest books. Should libraries even keep them on their shelves, for example? Instead, the book is a mix of the two and almost succeeds in meshing them successfully. The problem, if you can call it that, is that the book can't decide which avenue to pursue. We get neat descriptions of various university and private libraries and we get meditations on the human condition and medical school cadavers. While the history and descriptions of the books are never less than compelling, do we really need to know that the author has chosen to donate her body for medical research? I prefer authors who remove themselves from the story as much as possible. This is all Megan Rosenbloom who never lets you forget that she is a medical school librarian. I worked in one of the largest research libraries on the east coast for over three decades. Trust me, librarians are nowhere near as important or as inciteful as they like to claim. Rosenberg's "I'm a librarian, I KNOW things!" schtick wears thin fairly quickly. Her subject matter is so interesting, however, that Rosenberg's self-insert into the story is fairly easy to ignore. Only in the final chapter does she truly become insufferable. A great idea, a fascinating subject, marred by an author who is way too full of herself. Still, it merits four stars, based on its topic alone.
While interesting and well-written, including surprising information on various libraries and book collections around the world, this book isn’t without its disappointing moments. After reading about suspected anthropodermic books (books bound in human skin) the author has researched and/or sometimes seen or held in her hands, I was frustrated by the number of books she mentions that she was unable to see in person and/or test using the newly developed and accurate peptide mass fingerprinting method. The test requires a tiny sampling of the leather so small that its removal would go unnoticed by the naked eye, yet many in possession of these suspected books are reluctant to have them tested for any number of reasons.
Confirmed anthropodermic books currently number under 20, with an estimated 20-30 more possibly still in existence but yet to be tested. Surprisingly, most of the confirmed books were bound in the 1800’s by doctors who had access to the cadaver skin of the poor and criminals executed for heinous crimes. Even more surprisingly, none of the confirmed anthropodermic books were bound by the Nazis as is often assumed.
After having read the book, I couldn’t help but think the author should have waited a few more years to publish it, thus giving her the chance to see and possibly test the many suspected books that were unavailable to her at the time of publication.
As a fan of unique history, I found Dark Archives a fascinating read which not only addressed the history of anthropodermic books, but also looked into books bound in human skin through the historical lens of gender, race, medical ethics, and science The writing makes you feel like her partner as she travels her path of discovery and research. Excellent work!
This book is a fascinating look at not only some confirmed human skin books, but some fakes. The book also covers some of the history of the medical profession and why we should be more open about death in the U.S.