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Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin (FSG)
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.
Praise for Dark Archives:
"[Rosenbloom's] investigation into the past reveals much about the history of medicine . . . Wide-ranging, engagingly written, and unusual . . . [Dark Archives] will fascinate those interested in a new angle from which to consider what it means to be human and what our responsibilities are to other people . . . Essential." —Stephanie Klose, Library Journal (starred review)
"Fascinating . . . Rosenbloom’s conversational tone and obvious excitement at the thrill of the chase counterbalances the macabre nature of her subject . . . Lighter moments, such as a visit to an artisanal tanning facility that results in the destruction of Rosenbloom’s Keds, make her obsession with the sometimes gruesome stories behind these books relatable. This unique and well-researched account shines an intriguing light on a hidden corner of the rare books world." —Publishers Weekly
“This intriguing intersection of history, science, and the macabre stems from Rosenbloom's work as a researcher for The Anthropodermic Book Project, a team dedicated to investigating books bound in human skin. She digs deep into the origin story of these morbid artifacts . . . A unique conversation about consent, medical ethics, and legalities . . . Rosenbloom’s passion for the topic is infused in each page, making for a captivating read.” —Michelle Ross, Booklist
"Profoundly odd, wholly original, and utterly engrossing! If there were a Pulitzer for the category 'who knew?,' Ms. Rosenbloom’s Dark Archives would win it hands down." —Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
"Dark Archives is a gorgeous dive into the humanity and inhumanity of the people behind (and on) these strangely captivating books. Propelled by curiosity and bibliophilia, Rosenbloom travels far and wide and deep within, taking us to unimaginable places. This is a masterful work, enlightened and enlivened by Rosenbloom's scholarship and her involvement with the death positive movement. If there were a word for the perfect pairing of author and subject and the giddy joy that pairing brings to the reader, I'd be using it right now." —Mary Roach, author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War
"An international treasure hunt, fascinating medical history, high level PR nightmare, and heartrending account of the real people whose flesh was turned into curiosities by the medical professionals they trusted." —Caitlin Doughty, author of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions About Death
"Megan Rosenbloom is the perfect guide to a dark and sinister world populated by Victorian criminals, bodysnatchers, and dissectors—all of whom contributed to the gruesome art of binding books with human skin." —Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine
Megan Rosenbloom is a librarian with a research interest in the history of medicine and rare books. Now the collection strategies librarian at UCLA Library in Los Angeles, she was previously a medical librarian and before that, a journalist. She is obituary editor of the Journal of the Medical Library Association and president of the Southern California Society for the History of Medicine. She is a member of the Anthropodermic Book Project, a multi-disciplinary team scientifically testing alleged human skin books around the world to verify their human origin. She is also the co-founder and director of the Death Salon, the event arm of the Order of the Good Death, and is a leader in the Death Positive movement.
Caitlin Doughty is a mortician, activist, and funeral industry rabble-rouser. In 2011 she founded the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death, which has spawned the death positive movement. Her educational webseries "Ask a Mortician" has been viewed almost 150 million times. All three of her books Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, From Here to Eternity, and Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? were New York Times bestsellers. She lives in Los Angeles, where she owns a funeral home, Clarity Funerals.