*This event will take place in-person at the Philosophical Research Society, located at 3910 Los Feliz Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027.
PLEASE NOTE: Proof of vaccination is required to attend this event. All attendees are required to wear masks while inside the auditorium.
Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
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, 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.
Megan Rosenbloom is Collection Strategies Librarian at UCLA Library in Los Angeles. Megan served as a medical librarian for many years, where she developed a keen interest in the history of medicine and rare books. Megan Rosenbloom was the co-founder and director of Death Salon, the event arm of The Order of the Good Death, and a proponent of the Death Positive movement. She leads a research team called The Anthropodermic Book Project that aims to find the historic and scientific truths behind the world’s alleged books bound in human skin, or anthropodermic bibliopegy, and her bestselling debut book about this practice, titled Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin, won the 2021 Best Monograph Award from LAMPHHS (Librarians, Archivists, and Museum Professionals in the History of the Health Sciences). In a former life she was a journalist in Philadelphia and continues to write for both academic and non-academic publications.
Praise for Dark Archives:
“Part scholar, part journalist, part wide-eyed death enthusiast, Rosenbloom takes readers on her own journey to understand how and why human-skin books came to be . . . She includes no shortage of memorable scientific minutiae and clarifications of misunderstood history along the way.” —James Hamblin, The New York Times Book Review
“Driven by an engine of curiosity, Rosenbloom moves through history at a brisk pace, bookending each chapter with excellent hooks and cliff hangers, all of which makes for propulsive reading . . . A species of reparative writing, Dark Archives excavates the hidden stories stitched into the binding of anthropodermic books and, in doing so, restores some humanity to victims of medical exploitation. Delightful and propulsive, Rosenbloom's measured balance of bloody thrills with historical fact and ethical nuance makes Dark Archives a titillating Halloween read.” —Connor Goodwin, NPR
“With sincere curiosity and clear-eyed analysis, Rosenbloom, a librarian at UCLA with a specialty in the history of medicine, unfurls the stories of the binders of the skins and their previous inhabitants . . . The result of Rosenbloom’s probing travelogues, lively histories and deep study of book stewardship is an incongruously bright-eyed view of a subject that, in the hands of another scholar, might be either plodding or gruesomely sensationalistic. The true story of how people became books is surprisingly intersectional, touching on gender, race, socioeconomics and the Western medical establishment’s colonialist mindset.” —Leslie Pariseau, LA Times
"Against all odds, a delight . . . Regardless of how wacky or tragic any particular book’s journey has been, Rosenbloom approaches them all with such good humor, solid science, and unerring respect for the dead that Dark Archives manages to be life-affirming amidst all the ethical debate and stinky tannery mishaps. Dark? Always. Gross? Sometimes." —Emma Grey Ellis, Wired
“[Dark Archives] begins as a quest for the fascinating and forbidden: the reader is invited to share the thrill of pursuit, and of the moment when the sinister and legendary provenance of a book is scientifically verified. But as the histories of these books unfold, the focus necessarily shifts from their creators and possessors to the lives of those who supplied the skin.” —Mike Jay, The New York Review of Books
"The most interesting and unsettling text of recent times . . . Written with the pace of a detective thriller." —New Statesman
"What begins as an investigation into fascinatingly macabre volumes becomes a reflection on medical ethics, consent and mortality." —The Economist