Hot Best Seller

Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin

Availability: Ready to download

On bookshelves around the world, surrounded by ordinary books bound in paper and leather, rest other volumes of a distinctly strange and grisly sort: those bound in human skin. Would you know one if you held it in your hand? In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind anthropodermic bibliopegy--the practice of binding books in this On bookshelves around the world, surrounded by ordinary books bound in paper and leather, rest other volumes of a distinctly strange and grisly sort: those bound in human skin. Would you know one if you held it in your hand? In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind anthropodermic bibliopegy--the practice of binding books in this most intimate covering. Dozens of such books live on in the world's most famous libraries and museums. Dark Archives exhumes their origins and brings to life the doctors, murderers, innocents, and indigents whose lives are sewn together in this disquieting collection. Along the way, Rosenbloom tells the story of how her team of scientists, curators, and librarians test rumored anthropodermic books, untangling the myths around their creation and reckoning with the ethics of their custodianship. A librarian and journalist, Rosenbloom is a member of The Order of the Good Death and a cofounder of their Death Salon, a community that encourages conversations, scholarship, and art about mortality and mourning. In Dark Archives--captivating and macabre in all the right ways--she has crafted a narrative that is equal parts detective work, academic intrigue, history, and medical curiosity: a book as rare and thrilling as its subject.


Compare

On bookshelves around the world, surrounded by ordinary books bound in paper and leather, rest other volumes of a distinctly strange and grisly sort: those bound in human skin. Would you know one if you held it in your hand? In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind anthropodermic bibliopegy--the practice of binding books in this On bookshelves around the world, surrounded by ordinary books bound in paper and leather, rest other volumes of a distinctly strange and grisly sort: those bound in human skin. Would you know one if you held it in your hand? In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind anthropodermic bibliopegy--the practice of binding books in this most intimate covering. Dozens of such books live on in the world's most famous libraries and museums. Dark Archives exhumes their origins and brings to life the doctors, murderers, innocents, and indigents whose lives are sewn together in this disquieting collection. Along the way, Rosenbloom tells the story of how her team of scientists, curators, and librarians test rumored anthropodermic books, untangling the myths around their creation and reckoning with the ethics of their custodianship. A librarian and journalist, Rosenbloom is a member of The Order of the Good Death and a cofounder of their Death Salon, a community that encourages conversations, scholarship, and art about mortality and mourning. In Dark Archives--captivating and macabre in all the right ways--she has crafted a narrative that is equal parts detective work, academic intrigue, history, and medical curiosity: a book as rare and thrilling as its subject.

30 review for Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Lawson

    Finished it in one day and immediately picked it for my Fantastic Strangelings book club. SO GOOD.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    This is one of those books you read out of morbid curiosity, because that was the reason for selecting it. And although it’s quite gruesome in its details, it was an engrossing one. You would think that only a murderer or another deranged person would bound a book in human skin. Turned out quite the opposite: (view spoiler)[“No wonder the public persists in connecting the idea of human skin books with Nazis. It’s easier to believe that objects of human skin are made by monsters like Nazi and seri This is one of those books you read out of morbid curiosity, because that was the reason for selecting it. And although it’s quite gruesome in its details, it was an engrossing one. You would think that only a murderer or another deranged person would bound a book in human skin. Turned out quite the opposite: (view spoiler)[“No wonder the public persists in connecting the idea of human skin books with Nazis. It’s easier to believe that objects of human skin are made by monsters like Nazi and serial killers, and not the well-respected doctors the likes of whom parents want their children to become someday.” (hide spoiler)] There are not many details about most of these books but for some of them which turned out to be indeed bound in human skin *, the willingly or not donors, are now known. The author did an extensive research and I must acknowledge her dedication in trying to uncover the truth behind. Many turned out to be bound in animal skin: pig’s, horse’s, even rabbit’s in one case. As for the reasons why would anyone want such a book, there are only suppositions. Intertwined with the history of these books, there are many details also about the doctors and medicine practice of those times, not only from United Stated, from where she is native, but also from England, Scotland, and France. Another interesting thing is that, if you have a tattoo and you want it preserved for your future generations, you can do that nowadays. That really gave me the creeps, for as much as I love my tattoo, I really can't think of it ending up framed on a wall… ** Bottom line is, it was a morbidly captivating read, but my first and last on this subject. The 4 stars rating is for the book only, the info provided, structure and quality of writing, because I can’t say it was an enjoyable one. * https://anthropodermicbooks.org/ ** https://savemyink.tattoo/ PS: Details on Anthropodermic bibliopegy here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthrop... >>> ARC received thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux via NetGalley <<<

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gerhard

    In her Author’s Note, Megan Rosenbloom notes that “… real human skin books do not usually immediately announce themselves with a ghoulish appearance. They do not look much different from any other antiquarian book you would find on the shelf. It’s likely some are quietly resting in library stacks, hiding in plain sight. Even if you were holding one right now, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell.” Having said that, there are only about 50 human skin books in the world, as verified and authentica In her Author’s Note, Megan Rosenbloom notes that “… real human skin books do not usually immediately announce themselves with a ghoulish appearance. They do not look much different from any other antiquarian book you would find on the shelf. It’s likely some are quietly resting in library stacks, hiding in plain sight. Even if you were holding one right now, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell.” Having said that, there are only about 50 human skin books in the world, as verified and authenticated by the Anthropodermic Book Project. Rosenbloom includes a single pic as an example. This is ‘The Dance of Death’ by Hans Holbei, courtesy of John Hay Library at Brown University, which is a medieval memento mori featuring dancing skeletons. The proper term for making human skin books is ‘anthropodermic bibliopegy’, a conflation of the Greek ‘anthropos’ for human, ‘derma’ for skin, ‘biblion’ for book and ‘pegia’ for fasten. Rosenbloom quotes critic Paul Needham as stating that this term is ‘sanitising’: “They’re ‘books bound in human skin’ and anything else is trying to euphemise and therefore deflect from the central fact.” The two main standpoints are (1) that these books are important cultural artefacts that need to be contextualised and understood and (2) that they represent a sorry end for some poor people, and therefore need to be dismantled and the human remains properly interred as a sign of respect. While Rosenbloom is clearly in the former camp, she is careful to articulate both sides of what is an emotive and forceful debate. While little is known about these books, or even how many there actually are, she argues that they tell “a complicated and uncomfortable tale about the development of clinical medicine and the doctoring class, and the worst of what can come from the collision of acquisitiveness and a distanced clinical gaze.” This ‘clinical gaze’ is, of course, the “distanced view of patients” as described by Foucault in ‘The Birth of the Clinic’. The approach resulted in the Paris School, which became the basis for modern medicine. Rosenbloom dispels many myths and misconceptions about such books, including the notion that it must be “a Nazi thing”. Her immediate retort to this is: “No, Nazis burned books. They didn’t prize and collect them the way that those who created anthropodermic books did.” And if like me you have a vague memory of the notorious Buchenwald lampshade made from human skin, Rosenbloom gives a fascinating account of its true provenance. Despite the ghoulish subject matter, this book is more about intellectual curiosity than anything else. How do you overcome your innate revulsion and repugnance to achieve any kind of empathy with its practitioners – who invariably are not stereotypical Mad Scientists, but often highly revered medical doctors of impeccable character and social standing? Rosenbloom takes the reader on various dizzying quests into the origin stories of some well-known anthropodermic books, focusing on the people whose skin ended up being processed as book-binding leather. This includes a clear-eyed account of what is exactly involved in such a process, what the difference is between materials as diverse as horse and rabbit, and the testing process to determine if a book cover has indeed been made from that most macabre of materials. Rosenbloom’s enthusiasm for her subject matter (and source material) shines from every page of this wonderful book. It is a journey of discovery and of humility, of acknowledging that “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” “As I hunt down the stories that attach themselves over time to these most mysterious of books, I see them less as objects and more as vessels for stories – the stories contained within the pages, of course, but also the stories of the people whose skin may bind the covers.”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Madison

    If I had to pick only one word to describe this book, that word would be "defensive." Each of the disjointed, overly precious chapters get about 80% of the way toward making a point when Rosebloom halts in her tracks to say, basically, "but regardless of all that, I think human skin books are neat!" She makes some vague gestures toward acknowledging the power imbalances that result in people binding their books in the skin of other people before refusing to call the process racist or sexist or vi If I had to pick only one word to describe this book, that word would be "defensive." Each of the disjointed, overly precious chapters get about 80% of the way toward making a point when Rosebloom halts in her tracks to say, basically, "but regardless of all that, I think human skin books are neat!" She makes some vague gestures toward acknowledging the power imbalances that result in people binding their books in the skin of other people before refusing to call the process racist or sexist or violent. She says that there's no evidence of violent or psychosexual intentions on the part of the universally white, wealthy male collectors that bound books in human skin, while simultaneously proceeding to describe every single book as either bound in the skin of poor, or Black, or female people; or written by or about poor, Black or female people. Seriously? You don't see a theme here? As a fellow librarian, it was interesting to read the work of someone in my field with whom I almost completely disagree. Rosenbloom seems completely enthralled by antiquity; she loves old books merely because they're old, and that takes over every other impulse. I agree far more with the academic she debates in Chapter 5, Paul Needham, who believes that human skin bindings should be treated like the human remains they are. Rosenbloom seems to think there's some academic merit behind keeping the books intact, despite the fact that all she and everyone else does is go look at them to say "neat!" and then put them back in storage, and they've all been digitized and documented to death (no pun intended). God, I really hated this book. I hated how she writes fawningly about wealthy white male doctors who cut off their patients' skin to bind books. I hated how constantly she defends her position that literally cutting off the skin of marginalized people doesn't have some foundational roots in hegemonic ideas of race and gender. I learned things, yeah, but mostly about tanning leather and 1800s midwives, facts that were cool but mostly unrelated to the subjects at hand. But I also hope other people, especially librarians, read it so we can all have a big talk about how an obsession with old books can lead to callousness towards human beings.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lady H

    In one Supernatural plot arc, Sam and Dean Winchester are on the hunt for a tome called The Book of the Damned. Discovered by Charlie Bradbury in a monastery in Spain, it is a 700 year old dark magic book penned by a nun who, after having "visions of darkness," locked herself away and emerged decades later with the book, having written it all on slices of her own skin, using her own blood. That's the sort of thing I thought Dark Archives was gonna get into, but sadly, the reality of human skin bo In one Supernatural plot arc, Sam and Dean Winchester are on the hunt for a tome called The Book of the Damned. Discovered by Charlie Bradbury in a monastery in Spain, it is a 700 year old dark magic book penned by a nun who, after having "visions of darkness," locked herself away and emerged decades later with the book, having written it all on slices of her own skin, using her own blood. That's the sort of thing I thought Dark Archives was gonna get into, but sadly, the reality of human skin books is disappointing and banal. That's not a criticism of the book; that's on me for having expectations influenced by a CW urban fantasy show. In reality, books bound in human skin don't really have very gruesome histories, just ones that are kind of vaguely sad and unfair, in the way that life is often unfair to the poor and marginalized. I would say that Dark Archives is a book more about the history of medical ethics than it is about human skin books, because most human skin books were made by doctors, or were found in doctors' collections. Not particularly surprising, given the medical profession's history. As a librarian myself, I really enjoyed seeing how the author went about doing her research at various libraries, and I was fascinated by the random details she included about preservation and book binding. And I just really liked reading about another librarian, who is clearly super passionate about books, going about this project. However, the book overall did feel somewhat scattered and bloated, and uneven, too: some parts I found utterly fascinating, while others were just okay. I guess I just wanted something a bit more sensational and gruesome; as it is, I kind of hate this book for disabusing me of the very lurid notions I had about books bound in human skin. The reality of it all is just so...mundane. Alas.

  6. 5 out of 5

    madmadmaddy

    I really, really wanted to love this book. I pre-ordered it and everything! Unfortunately, Dark Archives suffers from the same tendency to center the (white, able, thin, instagram-approved) self in discussions about uncomfortable topics like systemic racism and misogyny that I see in my and the author's profession, academic librarianship. I work at an institution that is home to four books bound in human skin. [this review does not reflect the views of or is endorsed by my employer] I've handled I really, really wanted to love this book. I pre-ordered it and everything! Unfortunately, Dark Archives suffers from the same tendency to center the (white, able, thin, instagram-approved) self in discussions about uncomfortable topics like systemic racism and misogyny that I see in my and the author's profession, academic librarianship. I work at an institution that is home to four books bound in human skin. [this review does not reflect the views of or is endorsed by my employer] I've handled two of them, brought out for an orientation to the Special Collections for undergraduates held every fall semester. It's really fucking weird to me that we continue to show them off to students like a sideshow; I found myself agreeing with Needham in chapter 5, rather than the author's clinical take on their value as research objects. Flipping through the book, I found that I had scrawled "ew", "wtf", "bad opinion" next to nearly every section in which Rosenbloom centered herself in a discussion of race, ethics, or consent. It's not that I don't like the genre of journalistic nonfiction, it's just that Rosenbloom is definitely more interested in 'anthropodermic bibliopegy' than humanity, which feels extremely out-of-touch at the moment. I do give her credit for writing an accessible book about the weird, horrifying history of anatomy and clinical medicine. I just wish she would take a stand against it, rather than revering the doctors who created these bindings from human skin. I would also like to note that my cat threw up on my copy while I was writing this review. 1 star from Lemon

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Elwood

    It’s everything I want from nonfiction: weirdly specific topic, good writing, lots of history and interactions with various experts, fascinating and a bit macabre. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who is extremely squeamish, but the macabre topic is very tactically handled and buttressed by histories and issues of medical ethics and histories.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katie Long

    Gosh, I loved this. Books bound in human skin had long been a macabre claim in rare book collections, but their existence couldn’t be definitively confirmed until 2014. Rosenbloom explores the science behind confirming these pieces and the historical context of the creation of several of them. Why would anyone create something so gruesome? Or lie about having done so? Why were these books chosen for anthropodermic binding? The reasons are often surprising and often not (ahem, detached white male Gosh, I loved this. Books bound in human skin had long been a macabre claim in rare book collections, but their existence couldn’t be definitively confirmed until 2014. Rosenbloom explores the science behind confirming these pieces and the historical context of the creation of several of them. Why would anyone create something so gruesome? Or lie about having done so? Why were these books chosen for anthropodermic binding? The reasons are often surprising and often not (ahem, detached white male privilege), but Rosenbloom weaves it all into an unputdownable book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin, by Megan Rosenbloom, is a well titled book, as it is about the science and history of books bound in human skin. This book covers how the books are tested, the frequency of a successful test (60% are confirmed real, but about 40% are fake), issues of consent, book collection eccentricities, and rumours. Some interesting information abounds - the largest number of books bound in human skin seem t Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin, by Megan Rosenbloom, is a well titled book, as it is about the science and history of books bound in human skin. This book covers how the books are tested, the frequency of a successful test (60% are confirmed real, but about 40% are fake), issues of consent, book collection eccentricities, and rumours. Some interesting information abounds - the largest number of books bound in human skin seem to be created by Anglo-Saxon gentlemen doctors and bibliophiles from the 19th century. Rumours abounded about Nazi and French revolutionary atrocities with books and lampshades created out of human skin, but no known artifacts have yet been found to prove this (not an indication either way, of course). An interesting chapter on consent is contained, discussing this issue from various perspectives. All told though, this is some macabre and eccentric stuff, and Rosenbloom is looking at a very niche, but interesting and often under studied topic. Numerous books that claimed to be made of human skin were kept in collections across the United States (and the world). Rosenbloom is working with an interesting method of measuring the DNA structure of the books cover to discover what animal the book is made from, or if it is truly a anthropodermic book. Many of the books tested from the French Revolution era, for example, are made from horse skin, and the rumours about there creation may have been done so for propaganda purposes by Royalists. An interesting and quick read, and certainly worth a go for those interested in library sciences and a unique book on books.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Krystelle Zuanic

    When the passion of an author in a book simply glows through the pages, you know you're onto a damn good thing. This book, though the subject material is morbid at best, is absolutely fascinating, and provides the reader with an incredible insight into the world of anthropodermic books and the people who make them (in all senses of the word). The book follows the journey of the author through her deep dive into the world of human skin bound books, and the stories that follow on from said books. When the passion of an author in a book simply glows through the pages, you know you're onto a damn good thing. This book, though the subject material is morbid at best, is absolutely fascinating, and provides the reader with an incredible insight into the world of anthropodermic books and the people who make them (in all senses of the word). The book follows the journey of the author through her deep dive into the world of human skin bound books, and the stories that follow on from said books. The matter of who the books were is perhaps the most interesting aspect- the stories that follow on from a book like this, the absolute dearth of books out there of this nature, and the abuses that led to many of them. I think perhaps the most interesting is where an individual chooses such a strange commodification of their body and requests bookbinding of their skin post-death- fascinating, virtually impossible in this day and age, and the root of so many interesting questions. There is such a draw of the absolute macabre here- and there are some stories which go beyond the pale of even their subject matter. The criticism of this book I have is that it could've been, quite simply, substantially longer. There should've been more about the medical abuses of power some doctors took into their own hands, the class and race-driven imbalances in these practices, and just a bit more on the personal journey of the author. Perhaps, though, this is simply my insatiable curiosity speaking- I just wanted so much more from this book, though I am unsure that anything would have been enough on such an interesting subject.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sam Sigelakis-Minski

    RTC. I loved all of the parts of this book- the doctors, the history, and Rosenbloom's death positive outlook, but I do feel that it was a little disjointed organizationally. Update: Full review at Sam's Beach Reads. What I Loved: What I loved most, and what was the overarching theme of Dark Archives, was the diverse historical context. Rosenbloom has spent her career studying and looking for anthropodermic books, and her body of research shows. We get to learn about the French Revolution, RTC. I loved all of the parts of this book- the doctors, the history, and Rosenbloom's death positive outlook, but I do feel that it was a little disjointed organizationally. Update: Full review at Sam's Beach Reads. What I Loved: What I loved most, and what was the overarching theme of Dark Archives, was the diverse historical context. Rosenbloom has spent her career studying and looking for anthropodermic books, and her body of research shows. We get to learn about the French Revolution, Nazi-era Germany, Civil War-era USA, and 19th-20th century medical culture in the UK, and while it is all through the lens of human cruelty and medical knowledge, it is history I never learned in school. We learn that at one point, human dissection via donation to science wasn’t a thing, and the only way medical students learned about the human body was through dissecting murderers’ bodies or by buying corpses from grave robbers. We learn that the Nazis destroyed a lot of their macabre “trophies” like a lampshade bound in human tattooed skin, so there has not as yet been proof of this particular kind of atrocity. What I think is most shocking about Rosenbloom’s conclusions is that it wasn’t “monsters” who bound books in skin, but rather mostly by doctors of decent renown in their communities. Prior to the international ethical standards that were established for how doctors interacted with the general public, doctors would regularly create their own trophies, such as medical treatises bound in human skin or skulls on their desks. To get to that conclusion, however, Rosenbloom extensively explores the darkest rumors of human bound books throughout history. Through Rosenbloom’s’ exploration of the history, she did a great job of highlighting racism and sexism in the intellectual fields. For reasons unknown, many people (specifically white people) have claimed to own books specifically bound in POC skin, whether it be Native American, black, or other, and the claims have largely been unproven. Similarly, one of the most “valued” medical treatises regarding female anatomy was bound in an unnamed woman’s skin, and the doctor showed a callous disregard of the woman involved. Rosenbloom highlights this specific problem so well; both the lack of autonomy presented in these human bound books, and the perverse glee that white men took in owning books purported to be bound in women/POC skin. Lastly, on a personal note, as someone who has spent a lot of time recently wishing they’d become a librarian instead of an attorney, Rosenbloom is a wonderful advocate for the profession. Rosenbloom experienced hardship and medical problems of a loved one, she persevered, and is now one of the coolest librarians I have ever heard of (except maybe Evelyn from The Mummy). What Didn’t Work *as Well* Honestly, I found this book to be near flawless. My only major issue (which proved to be a bit of a boon) was the unorganized structure the information was presented. Rosenbloom, I believe, presented Dark Archives in chronological order from when she found the books or was searching for them, so the chapters on Nazism are before the French Revolution and the late 1800s was at the beginning. The reason why this worked for me specifically was because I read Dark Archives at a ridiculously leisurely pace, picking it up and putting it down for about two months. The disjointed nature of the chapters really didn’t bother me because I wasn’t reading this in one sitting at the edge of my seat. What didn’t bother me at all, but seemed to bother other readers on Goodreads, was how not morbid Dark Archives was. This was a mostly historical book that presented anthropodermic books as a human moral failing, if anything, rather than a gruesome tale of horror and depravity. Personally, I liked it. It took a topic that I didn’t know much about, gave me a lot of knowledge about it, and made it interesting. However, horror seekers may want to look elsewhere.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dylan

    A look at human leather bound books and the people involved. 3.5 rounded up. Not for the faint of heart! Synopsis: Dark Archives is a non-fiction book that takes a look at the history of human leather bound books with the main intent of bringing to light the stories of the people who made the books (those that bound them as well as those who were used to bind them). There's also a fairly large emphasis on medical history as many of the people who had human leather bound books made were doctors in A look at human leather bound books and the people involved. 3.5 rounded up. Not for the faint of heart! Synopsis: Dark Archives is a non-fiction book that takes a look at the history of human leather bound books with the main intent of bringing to light the stories of the people who made the books (those that bound them as well as those who were used to bind them). There's also a fairly large emphasis on medical history as many of the people who had human leather bound books made were doctors in the 19th century. Rosenbloom looks into the history of many of the more well-known anthropodermic books, and documents her experiences visiting the libraries that hold them. Thoughts: This was an interesting read that was elevated by the author's clear passion for the subject and the huge amount of research that went into this book. Each chapter as at least five pages of references! Rosenbloom is part of the death positive movement and she's a librarian herself so she already has a wealth of knowledge on the subject, but I was still really impressed by the amount of research that went into this book. I will say, the material in the book was slightly different than I expected, as I said there is a heavy emphasis on medical history and conversely the book is a bit lighter on some aspects that I wanted to know more about such as how they test the books to find out if they are human leather as well as how these books are cared for. Having said that, I did find the medical history elements interesting and they were definitely important to the picture Rosenbloom painted of the people involved in creating anthropodermic books. One of Rosenbloom's main goals with this book was to tell the story of the people involved, not just the books, and I think she did a great job of that. One of the most memorable parts of the book for me was the story of a murderer who had his prison warden write his memoir and then had the memoir bound in his own skin after he died! I do think the book is a tad bit shorter than it could have been. Roughly 25% of the 288 pages is taken up by the book's references, and I was a bit shocked when I got to the epilogue because I felt like I still had a lot to learn about these books, but overall I think Rosenbloom did a great job of teaching the reader more about this macabre subject. I think if the topic interests you and you also have some interest in the history of medicine then it will be well worth your time to read this. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced review copy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alix

    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 poss 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    A book about books bound in human skin. You probably have some idea already whether that's for you, and Rosenbloom quite understands that the Anthropodermic Book Project of which she's part is never likely to be a mainstream interest – "My research trips tend to resemble the plot of the first twenty minutes of a horror movie – a woman alone, naively plunging into some mystery she has no business investigating, driven by a vague curiosity and a disdain for common sense." She's that commendable so A book about books bound in human skin. You probably have some idea already whether that's for you, and Rosenbloom quite understands that the Anthropodermic Book Project of which she's part is never likely to be a mainstream interest – "My research trips tend to resemble the plot of the first twenty minutes of a horror movie – a woman alone, naively plunging into some mystery she has no business investigating, driven by a vague curiosity and a disdain for common sense." She's that commendable sort of person who can recognise the peculiarity of her own interests while still being sincere about them, as when describing "incomparably lush and velvety images that may or may not have caused me to utter aloud 'That flayed penis is just beautiful."' But at the same time, she does quietly yet firmly make a case for the wider applicability of her field, noting the parallels to things like the growing interest among the tattooed in having the canvases in which they live preserved after their death. She's keenly aware of the ethical issues surrounding material like this, but generally lands on the side of keeping, studying, contextualising over removing, let alone burying - not least because, as she shows in many different ways, a lot of the assumptions people make about how this ties in to power and structural inequality are not supported by the evidence. Most obviously, people often assume it's a Nazi thing, but there are no known examples of Nazis binding books in human skin (and even the infamous lampshade story turns out to be shaky; the one example with which she was personally involved with testing turned out not even to be animal skin, but cellulose). Stranger still: there's one pre-War book by a Jew who fell victim to the Nazis which was, and even one memoir by a survivor of the camps which reputedly was (though turned out actually to be rabbit). Because this is another big theme – there are an awful lot more books purporting to be bound in human skin than real ones. Rosenbloom talks about the testing process, and its limits (they can't distinguish human leather from any of the other great apes, though so far as they know there are no books bound in the skins of other great apes, so the issue has yet to arise). Also about the owners and institutions who have refused testing, or would rather the results be kept confidential – both positions she respects. Indeed, she repeatedly demonstrates a welcome and old-fashioned ability to entertain good faith disagreements, even when the other party is someone as trying as Princeton librarian Paul Needham, who to me seemed worryingly ready to throw around terms like "post-mortem rape" while asserting, based on no evidence beyond his own gut feeling, that there was necessarily a patriarchal, psychosexual motive to binding a book in skin. This despite the counter-example of several books in which an account of the misdeeds or trial of a man who killed a woman were in turn bound in the skin of the guilty man after his execution - which, given the assumed consequences at the time of post-mortem dismemberment for the deceased's fate come Judgment Day, is no small additional reminder that such behaviour was quite thoroughly discouraged. Equally, books where the race of the 'donor' is specified turn out to be especially likely to be fakes; conversely, there is only one known edition of any book to have two volumes bound in human, and that's by the first black woman to be published as a poet in the fledgling US, Phillis Wheatley. Yes, there are also cases where the power dynamic is more what you'd expect: from the examples here, I'd say the default original owner of such a book is a male doctor, working somewhere between the 17th century (there's a whole fascinating section on the profession's sidelining of midwives in France around then) and the early 20th. But so many exceptions! I was especially intrigued by the highwayman who asked that his dictated autobiography be bound in his own skin - perhaps, Rosenbloom suggests, because for someone whose deathbed conversion seems implausible, that was as full an afterlife as he could conceive. Even assuming you're OK with the book's theme and conclusions, though, there are a few glitches here and there. For all that many of the research trips recorded here do seem to have genuinely seen her acquiring new information, there are also times when it feels a little like that 'So I went to see...' contrivance so painfully familiar from presenter-led modern documentaries. The prose is haunted by occasional infelicities: "The court proceedings had to pause periodically due to noisy riots outside". As opposed to? I mean, I know there was a band called Quiet Riot, but I always thought that was a deliberate oxymoron. And the one which nearly got me off on the wrong foot altogether was right at the beginning when Rosenbloom explains that, in real life, books bound in human skin aren't nearly as blatant about it as the Evil Dead's Necronomicon – "Even if you were holding one right now, you probably wouldn't be able to tell." Which, given I was reading a Netgalley ARC on my 'phone, conjured up some horribly Cronenberg possibilities – but also doesn't really make sense, because while I hope any hardback does look suitably 'Is it..?', surely most people who read this will do so via paperback or ebook? Also, there is one tantalising hint to the contrary later, a book on breasts with a visible nipple – but Rosenbloom doesn't get to see it, only a photo in an old catalogue, so like the skin-covered de Sades, it remains a tantalising hint rather than a confirmed example. Though the last chapter does establish one pretty apt volume for sure, even as it denies a couple of other tempting possibilities – and, more interesting still, further complicates the examples of the sorts of doctors involved with the creation of these artefacts. I enjoyed this a lot, and felt like it justified itself as a full book, even while recognising that for a lot of people it would be another case of the non-fiction book which could happily have been a long read. I hope Rosenbloom does get that wider reach too, as well as this finding its way to the ghoulish constituency who'll appreciate it. And if there's one bit which deserves to go widest of all, it's surely her reminder that as much as many may be outraged by these books, or the notion of skinning the inked, and consider it desecration of a corpse, in much of the US at least there's no real legal definition of that term, and it's not long ago at all that cremation and autopsies were placed under the same header.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lukas Vermeer

    Who knew a book about books bound in human skin could be so boring!? I didn’t and was unpleasantly surprised by this lengthy advertorial for Peptide Mass Fingerprint testing and the Anthropodermic Book Project.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    As it stands, there are around 50 alleged anthropodermic books in the world and many more are speculated over. People heavily debate the ethics of their existence: some argue they should be protected and studied; others believe they should be interred to give the person who - most likely - did not give their consent a proper burial. Megan Rosenbloom, a medical librarian, death positive, and fascinated by anthropodermic bibliopegy, shows both sides of this dispute and she takes us through the spo As it stands, there are around 50 alleged anthropodermic books in the world and many more are speculated over. People heavily debate the ethics of their existence: some argue they should be protected and studied; others believe they should be interred to give the person who - most likely - did not give their consent a proper burial. Megan Rosenbloom, a medical librarian, death positive, and fascinated by anthropodermic bibliopegy, shows both sides of this dispute and she takes us through the spotty history of these bindings. She talks about the history of ethics within medicine, how the "clinical gaze" made it easy for these doctors -yes, doctors- who bound these books in skin more detached from the patients who provided said skin, and how these books coincide with the dark shadow of death that people often want to ignore altogether. It was a fascinating insight into the history of anatomical studies and following the clues to see where and who provided skin for some of these books. I also liked that Rosenbloom included both sides of the argument when it comes to what should be done with these books, even if she ultimately disagrees. She explains how she has come to grapple with how human remains are handled and how it led to her death positivity journey. This was particularly interesting when she closes the end with visiting medical students grouped around donated cadavers and how she knows that could be her body one day, face covered with a sheet and body splayed open. Death is not an easy conversation. Even with society's fascination with horror and true crime, dealing with it yourself can be overwhelming. Yet, here we have books, some medical texts, some that are works of poetry and literature bound with human skin. In an odd way, it can be argued these people have gone on living, letting their skin be used to provide the protection for intellectual studies and art. Yet, they were alive once, and had they the choice, would they have submitted themselves to this? We will never know and that is why it is important to point to these anthropodermic books as an example of how far we have come with dying and consent. I hope to see the Anthropodermic Book Project identity more human bound books in the future, expanding the history of this practice to help us better understand why this was done and what was the motive behind some of those who did. If you are interested in learning more you can visit their website at https://anthropodermicbooks.org/

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    An incredibly fascinating and delightfully morbid book written by a librarian who studies the history of books bound with human skin. One of the most interesting reads of the year. It touches the historical, moral and racial implications of binding books in human skin and I absolutely loved it. Highly recommend for anyone looking for something different to read, someone who loves to learn, librarians and those interested in the history of the book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Isaiah

    To read a full review check it out here. Such a well written history. I can't imagine a better written or better author for this. To read a full review check it out here. Such a well written history. I can't imagine a better written or better author for this.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    What a fun(?) romp through the more macabre aspects of the history of medicine! Rosenbloom does a remarkable job using the creepy to expand out into much larger stories about medicine, questions about ethics, and discussions about the nature of medical education. Not a lot new here for someone already familiar with the history of medicine but am excellent primer for someone curious about the field.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    I love a good science nonfiction that goes hand-in-hand with my history loving soul, add in books, and this near-perfect blend of the three. This is absolutely captivating, although it could have been longer, but probably not for those without the morbid curiosity like myself. I received an ecopy of this book via Netgalley; however, my opinions are my own

  21. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (he/him/his)

    2.5 I don't know what it was with this book, but it wasn't a hit for me. I found it a bit dull and I never got into the stories, even though these things are usually up my alley. Weird historical facts about books bound in human skin? Sign me up? But, I never was able to sink into it. I felt at arms length the whole time, although there were occasions where I found myself more interested. So, sadly, the book was a miss for me. Hopefully, some day, I'll feel the pull to try it again and find it mo 2.5 I don't know what it was with this book, but it wasn't a hit for me. I found it a bit dull and I never got into the stories, even though these things are usually up my alley. Weird historical facts about books bound in human skin? Sign me up? But, I never was able to sink into it. I felt at arms length the whole time, although there were occasions where I found myself more interested. So, sadly, the book was a miss for me. Hopefully, some day, I'll feel the pull to try it again and find it more interesting a second time around.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Malissa

    That was fun.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    This would have made a great long form article. It’s a touch short on material for an entire book, though the author does an admirable job of filling in around the nuts and bolts of books made of human skin with interesting tidbits about book binding, book collections, and the legalities and ethics of the ultimate fate of human remains. The technical aspects of binding a book in human skin were less enthralling than I expected, as a bit of a chemistry nerd. Better was the *why* of it all. Or perh This would have made a great long form article. It’s a touch short on material for an entire book, though the author does an admirable job of filling in around the nuts and bolts of books made of human skin with interesting tidbits about book binding, book collections, and the legalities and ethics of the ultimate fate of human remains. The technical aspects of binding a book in human skin were less enthralling than I expected, as a bit of a chemistry nerd. Better was the *why* of it all. Or perhaps it’s the *who* that really grabs. It turns out that the folks who usually engaged in this practice are...Not the first group you might guess would be participating in it, though it does ultimately make a certain kind of sense given their profession. The actual human skin books turn out to be exceptionally rare (hence why this might have been better as a long form article than a full book); Most of the purported human skin books turn out to be fakes, usually animal skin or on one occasion, cellulose. But the best part of the book is the author, whose humorous takes on her subject and herself more than make up for what at times feels like a lack of relevant content. *I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ellie-Simone

    I would like to preface this review indicating that this particular area of academic intrigue greatly interested me from the start. I had already pre-ordered this new research treatise prior to being approved for an advanced reading copy by the publishers. I write this review as an arc reviewer in exchange for an honest review, but also as a genuine biblio research nerd who now owns this book as a hardcover copy, complete with highlights and sticky-noted pages. Ms. Rosenbloom, this was a wonderf I would like to preface this review indicating that this particular area of academic intrigue greatly interested me from the start. I had already pre-ordered this new research treatise prior to being approved for an advanced reading copy by the publishers. I write this review as an arc reviewer in exchange for an honest review, but also as a genuine biblio research nerd who now owns this book as a hardcover copy, complete with highlights and sticky-noted pages. Ms. Rosenbloom, this was a wonderful example of contemporary research exposing historical controversy. The writing was both accessible and exceptionally informative. Anyone interested in the unique corners of the biblioteque and the significance in its direct impact on historical archival work will find this focus highly interesting. Extremely niche in her focus, Rosenbloom successfully invites, informs, and encourages conversation. Far from just a thesis, the narrative elements elevate Dark Archives into a level of its own and I was so grateful to be exposed to a writer whose passion shines in every page. I will admit, I was not well versed in what it meant to be ‘death positive’ until learning from Rosenbloom in this work. She is a scholar, librarian, and actively engaged member in her community in focus groups pertaining to death as a concept, conversation, narrative, academic intrigue, and artistry. I found this incredible engagement with her area of interest tell-tale of how passionate she is for this topic – so I knew this book would be a treat. It does not disappoint. Here, Rosenbloom explores her investigations of anthropodermic bibliopegy – the antiquated practice of binding books in human skin. What I did expect: an eye-opening look into the scientific methods to determine how and when these books were created. I received this and more as a reader. What I did not expect but was met with were the detailed and careful explorations of the ethics surrounding the creation as well as the custodianship of these books. The controversy of housing books bound in skin rather than having them buried or burned was of particular shock to me. That which made Dark Archives stand out from other research focused non-fiction was its multifaced focus on the history of medical ethics as well as book binding/ preservation of organic materials. This book is not a sensationalized compilation of stories with cult pasts and wicked curses. It is a real expression of what humankind can to do one another, causing me to continually recall the title of Arendt’s work “Banality of Evil.”

  25. 4 out of 5

    Peacegal

    Fans of authors Mary Roach and Caitlyn Doughty won’t want to miss this unique survey of a literally skin-crawling subject matter. The existence of books bound in human skin have long been rumored throughout many cultures and time periods, but is this an especially gruesome legend or do such items actually exist? Armed with an intense fascination with historical texts and access to a forensics testing lab, Megan Rosenbloom takes readers on a memorable journey to find out. Spoiler alert: anthropod Fans of authors Mary Roach and Caitlyn Doughty won’t want to miss this unique survey of a literally skin-crawling subject matter. The existence of books bound in human skin have long been rumored throughout many cultures and time periods, but is this an especially gruesome legend or do such items actually exist? Armed with an intense fascination with historical texts and access to a forensics testing lab, Megan Rosenbloom takes readers on a memorable journey to find out. Spoiler alert: anthropodermic books exist, but quite a few fakes are floating around in collectors’ archives, and the sources of these shudder-inducing objects are probably not what you might assume. Many of them were created by doctors who saw this as a unique and worthwhile use of their deceased patients! In trying to understand how human leather may have been produced, the author makes a visit to a modern-day animal leather tannery that still uses old-fashioned methods. At one point she observes that flayed calf skins smell like "wet dog," which should offer up some unsettling questions about the arbitrary categories in which we place animals. In trying to come to grips with how medical doctors became so distanced from their patients that they could use their bodies to bind books, the author reflected on how quickly she went from trepidation to laughter in discussing the gruesome details of slaughter and skinning at the tanner’s. She also reveals that she is a “former” ethically-motivated vegan, which once again had me wondering how people can just stop caring. I also reflected on the fact that animal advocacy is one of the few justice causes that supporters can not only turn their backs on, but resume engaging in harmful behavior relating to, and most of society sees this as acceptable and even desirable. [And yes, we can still approach human remains with a different and more intense gravitas while still choosing to avoid causing needless suffering to other species.] DARK ARCHIVES is a well-written, enlightening, and thought-provoking book that informs readers while raising some serious questions about human remains and how we should view and handle problematic artifacts of the past. Those who have an interest in archival books, unusual history, and strange relics will find much to mull over in this title.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    In ‘Dark Archives’, author Megan Rosenbloom takes readers on a journey into the sordid and often misunderstood world of anthropodermic bibliopegy – the practice of binding books in human skin. As an art history teacher and manuscript nerd who is most interested in the history of the book, I found ‘Dark Archives’ to be a deeply fascinating read. Rosenbloom speaks with authority as the president of the Southern California Society for the History of Medicine and medical librarian at the Norris Medi In ‘Dark Archives’, author Megan Rosenbloom takes readers on a journey into the sordid and often misunderstood world of anthropodermic bibliopegy – the practice of binding books in human skin. As an art history teacher and manuscript nerd who is most interested in the history of the book, I found ‘Dark Archives’ to be a deeply fascinating read. Rosenbloom speaks with authority as the president of the Southern California Society for the History of Medicine and medical librarian at the Norris Medical Library of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Her current research is, through scientific testing, to confirm the listed anthropodermic books held in libraries and collections across the world. ‘Dark Archives’ serves not only as an introduction to Rosenbloom’s professional work, but as a treatise covering everything from our assumption about those that would value a book bound in human skin, our obsession with and consumption of true crime and those who utilize the human body for macabre purposes, the rise of the Death Positive movement, and the complicated history of the medical profession and those that have benefitted from it and been systematically harmed by it. Academics and LIS-heads, rejoice! This book is for us. In some places, Rosenbloom’s book will read like a literature survey and historical review that will make your dusty hearts leap. ‘Dark Archives’ is clearly a strong academic thesis that has been punched up with more narrative elements to make it widely marketable, striking a nice balance between academic writing and trade publishing that is enviable. If you are a fan of the history of science, fact-finding missions, myth-busting, book binding, body snatching, and the bizarre – I highly recommend you pick up a copy of ‘Dark Archives’. After all, Rosenbloom speaks our love language and I, for one, will be delighted to see where her research takes her next.

  27. 5 out of 5

    The Starry Library

    'Dark Archives' takes a peek under the layers of the phenomenon of human skin books. What spawned the author to bind a book in skin? Who were the victims? What are the provenance of these books? Who were the binders? What about the collectors who go to great lengths to procure them? This book attempts to answer these questions, but alas, as with any obscure topic, ethical issues abound. Should they be destroyed or should they be kept away from the public? Megan Rosenbloom, a specialist in Anthrop 'Dark Archives' takes a peek under the layers of the phenomenon of human skin books. What spawned the author to bind a book in skin? Who were the victims? What are the provenance of these books? Who were the binders? What about the collectors who go to great lengths to procure them? This book attempts to answer these questions, but alas, as with any obscure topic, ethical issues abound. Should they be destroyed or should they be kept away from the public? Megan Rosenbloom, a specialist in Anthropodermic Bibliopegy, grapples with the disgust and fascination of such books, presenting a well researched and sensitive exploration of this controversial history. She takes the reader on a journey through many archives and libraries who house these macabre books and the ethical issues they face. This book reads like a historical novel seeped in dark academia and Victorian science fiction, but the reader must not lose sight of the facts and truth of this disturbing occultic past. What we know is that for the past century, highly revered institutions have been coming out of the woodwork, claiming to have a copy of a human skin book. It’s here where Rosenbloom and her team, the Anthropodermic Book Project, set out to conduct their analyses, hoping to dispel myth from fact. What we also know is that most of these books were made by 19th century doctor bibliophiles. For some, the skin of the patient (victim) represented a medical rarity or triumph that they wanted to preserve, for others it was simply for the marvelous one-of-a-kind appeal that inspired them to commit such an act. Unfortunately, why doctors would do such a thing is never clearly answered and maybe that’s for the better. As for the collectors, the books are simply another oddity to add to their priceless shelves. There are lots of interesting bits of information about medical history interwoven throughout this book, with some detailed accounts of the lives of the doctors and people whose skin was used. Insights into the complicated and controversial past of medicine have stained the pages of these rare books, equally on par with their morbid materials. There is a moral obligation to ensure humanity is not stripped from patients in the medical field and that health and vitality should be the aim. There are many injustices still present in medicine today and if anthropodermic books can teach us anything, it’s that empathy and humanity are the buffers between a personalized and depersonalized approach to healthcare. An objectified approach runs the risk of binding healthcare in decay and malpractice...a contemporary version of a human skin book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Pollock

    It gives me pause to admit that I absolutely loved this book written by a librarian whose specialty is the scientific analysis of archival books purportedly bound in human skin. I initially wanted to read it out of morbid curiousity, but I really got sucked into all her various digressions about various related topics--historical suppression of midwives' expertise by male doctors, a brief trend for binding the trial records of hanged criminals in their own skin, the bodysnatchers of Edinburgh (Bu It gives me pause to admit that I absolutely loved this book written by a librarian whose specialty is the scientific analysis of archival books purportedly bound in human skin. I initially wanted to read it out of morbid curiousity, but I really got sucked into all her various digressions about various related topics--historical suppression of midwives' expertise by male doctors, a brief trend for binding the trial records of hanged criminals in their own skin, the bodysnatchers of Edinburgh (Burke and Hare), etc. It's not a book for the fainthearted, but neither is it gory or disrespectful of the dead. I liked reading it much more than i expected to. If you think the extended title sounds intriguing (albeit gross AF), I recommend it! I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily Stensloff

    4.5 stars. this book may not be exactly what you're expecting. while it is centered on the stories of anthropodermic books, it's deeper than that. i would go on to say the book is much more a study that uses human skin books to examine and analyze the history of ethics, consent, and medical misuse/abuse of power. and i don't mean that in a bad way! i was fascinated with the stories of all the books that Rosenbloom encountered (and i'm looking forward to following the data as more is discovered). 4.5 stars. this book may not be exactly what you're expecting. while it is centered on the stories of anthropodermic books, it's deeper than that. i would go on to say the book is much more a study that uses human skin books to examine and analyze the history of ethics, consent, and medical misuse/abuse of power. and i don't mean that in a bad way! i was fascinated with the stories of all the books that Rosenbloom encountered (and i'm looking forward to following the data as more is discovered). but i really think it was a benefit to have these thoughtful explorations on depersonalization in the medical world and dehumanization as a whole, particularly filtered through the lens of how the medical world has continuously wronged people of color, women, poor people, and various other marginalized people. the narrative is a little meandering at points (hence the 4.5) but not enough to disrupt my overall enjoyment.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    3.5 - an interesting discussion of the body, consent, and views of personhood, especially in the medical field. I have actually heard of human skin books before and never thought that deeply about them, so this brought me to a new level. However, it never quite went anywhere. Something was always missing for me. Maybe it’s because they author tries so hard to be fair that she will lay out the facts and then the two sides of the arguments and leave it at that - fantastic practice for research, sl 3.5 - an interesting discussion of the body, consent, and views of personhood, especially in the medical field. I have actually heard of human skin books before and never thought that deeply about them, so this brought me to a new level. However, it never quite went anywhere. Something was always missing for me. Maybe it’s because they author tries so hard to be fair that she will lay out the facts and then the two sides of the arguments and leave it at that - fantastic practice for research, slightly less satisfying in a book.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.