Cover Image: Dark Archives

Dark Archives

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Member Reviews

“Anthropodermic bibliopegy had been a specter on the shelves of libraries, museums, and private collections for over a century. Human skin books -mostly made by 19th century doctor bibliophiles - are the only books that are controversial not for the ideas they contain, but for the physical makeup of the object. They repel and fascinate, and their very ordinary appearances mask the horror inherent in their creation.”

I have been following Megan Rosenbloom on Twitter for a while now and when I found out she was publishing a book about human skin books, I was instantly on board. I work in an archive and am around rare books all the time but I don’t actively work with them. I never considered that some might be bound in human skin so I found the concept fascinating and morbid. 

I was hooked by the end of the first chapter. This book was fascinating and filled with the macabre detail of the history of these books. Rosenbloom does extensive research for each book and discusses what facts are known about the book and its skin donor, if that donor is known. I really enjoyed learning about her own experiences during her research and her feelings about what she found. While quite a few books did turn out to be bound in human skin many also turned out to be animal skin. Also quite a few of the institutions wouldn’t test their books so there are still quite a few unconfirmed human skin books out there. 

“Anthropodermic books tell a complicated and uncomfortable take about the development of clinical medicine and the doctoring class, and the worst of what can come from the collision of acquisitiveness and clinical distancing.”

Intertwined with the history of these books we get the history of the doctors behind them. We learn about how these doctors wronged their patients by stealing skins for books, as well as other things. I found this section fascinating because I didn’t expect the doctors behind the book to be known. I am very interested in reading further on some of the doctors, particularly the anatomist Joseph Leidy and his unethical actions with the dead. I also really want to go to the Mutter Museum now to see a human skin book and the other objects that Leidy gave them. 

“Human skin books force us to consider how we approach death and illness, and what we owe to those who have been wronged or used by medical practitioners.”
 
At the end of the book is a list of the confirmed human skin books as of March 2020. You can also find a list on the Wiki page for Anthropodermic bibliopegy with a link to the archives housing those books if you want further information about the archives or the book itself. . 

Overall, this was a fascinating look at a very morbid topic. I loved how this was handled and the information presented to the reader. As someone who works in an archive and never considered the possibility of a human skin book, this was both very informative and eye opening. It presented me with new ways to look at the materials an archive might have and to consider my own views on the subject in relation to the archives. Your views may differ from an archive view on controversial items but their goal is to preserve all history and put it into context so people can learn from it. 

*ARC provided by Netgalley for an honest review.*
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It wouldn't be a reading wrap-up from me without a macabre read! I received an ARC of Dark Archives from Netgalley and I'm glad I was accepted as the topic of this book is not only very niche and unusual but it involves books, history and medicine - everything I want in a non-fiction read! Megan Rosenbloom looks into the history surrounding books that are made of human skin...yes, anthropodermic books are a thing. I love documentaries and non-fiction reads so I did know that there are books bound in human skin but I didn't know the odd history behind the practice (spoilers: it was mostly a practice requested by doctors to have their books bound in their deceased patients or dissected human skin, not creepy at all). 

The book is a mix of the authors career, her life experiences, the processes involved in determining whether a book is bound in human skin or animal leather, the history of specific books that were bound in human skin and the individuals (mainly doctors) that owned, donated or prized these books. I loved the plethora of new-to-me information, the easy writing style which made for a quick read and I found the book overall to be morbidly fascinating. I did have a few issues with it such as the time line or structure as there didn't seem to be much of one and I'm (sometimes frustratingly so) one of those people who needs structure and an ordered layout so it did annoy me slightly. Also I found the author to be a little unlikeable and her tone dismissive at times too which given the sensitive nature of the book and topic, left me with mildly negative feelings about the author. Overall, there were points in the book that I had issues with but it was an undeniably macabre and interesting read.
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For those with a macabre interest in death and dissection, this will provide you with a suitable overview. For those, like myself, who were wanting a bit more, then you will go away slightly less fulfilled.

To be honest, I personally, was left a little flat. Whilst I appreciated that the author traveled throughout the USA to the libraries and universities that held these treasures, I was looking for a more broader study. The majority of tomes covered are American based, with some case studies are from the UK (ie: Burke & Hare, Red Barn Mystery) and France.

As I mentioned, those with a passing interest will find this a fascinating book which often looks at the mythology behind the antecedents of each tome; age-old myths surrounding the production of such tomes during both the French Revolution and Nazi Germany are debunked; and the science and methodology behind the production is discussed. Unfortunately I found more than one chapter waffling on before finally getting to the point in the last few paragraphs which resulted in my interest waning.
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It might go without being said, but this is the best book concerning books bound in tanned human skin that I have ever read.  I'm just not sure if it was perfectly the book about the subject I wanted.  It turns out that the things are much less common than you'd think, with the team the author helped set up scientifically proving their origin as and when the owners or libraries involved declare it possible.  Much of the fifty allegations left they can't get a hold of, and if anything it looks like fifty more might be hidden behind completely anonymous, closed, private doors.  And while the science comes up with "yup, you've got human remains around that book" roughly half the time, the list of potential claimants to be a skin-bound volume is shrinking with every negative.

So that's the wonderful side of this book – I love the idea of something so peculiar, however gory it also would feel to own one.  This author offers a very non-linear swoop around all this (I got really quite befuddled in the first chapters trying to follow the timeline of what she was telling me), and of course goes to many other areas we might not initially think of.  Whose was the skin, whose was the book, who created the hominid leather and got the thing bound, and what place do such human-derived artefacts have in our "rush all properties, shrunken heads et al out our museums and send them home" world?

That's the, I guess, good side of this book – it was only appropriate for someone to study the concept of human skin bindings for so long and come at it with so many aspects I wouldn't have expected.  But there's also a weaker side – we get too closely intertwined with the author's medical history knowledge, from Burke and Hare, to the unusual origins of patient consent, and so much more.  This woolliness seemed counter-academic to me, the medical concerns seemed to outweigh the love of books you'd expect from a librarian like our guide, and the overly personal elements took me far too far away from the books themselves and too close to the author.  But like I say, in an exceptionally niche area, this is a stand-out volume.  To my personal reflections, as opposed to any academic response, I think this gets three and a half stars.

Oh, and the author at no time denies having made a certain one-off of this volume…  (I know she says she'd baulk at owning one, but could anything be more fitting?)
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I feel like I was the target audience for this book (trained librarian, book lover, morbidly curious) and indeed I did really like it. I had even been to or heard of many of the libraries mentioned throughout this book. “Dark Archives” is a great mix of publishing history, medical history, and ethics surrounding the body and the responsibilities of libraries or museums to treat their materials with dignity. Rosenbloom hops around the US and Europe seeking out relevant cases of real and false human-skin bound books, taking breaks along the way to discuss the history of that particular title, a bindery, and a doctor or their patient. Could make you a little squeamish... but Rosenbloom is very respectful. I think this will be great for fans of Caitlin Moran and anyone interested in libraries or museums. The author even mentions “Double Fold” by Nicholson Baker, a slightly controversial book about historic preservation of newspapers that I’d recommend as a companion read to this book.
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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.
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I loved this smart, respectful, and detailed examination of the history and present of anthropodermic bibliopegy--books bound in human skin. Author Megan Rosenbloom explores her own fascination with this topic, which some might deem gruesome or morbid, and begins a research project on these rare volumes. She carefully documents the provenance of human skin-bound books, searching through auction house records, private collections, and archives. She offers information on why people had books bound in human skin, whose skin was used and why, and issues of consent. She describes the science used to determine the kind of skin a book is bound in, and discusses ongoing efforts to preserve human skin--particularly that which has been tattooed--after the death of the donor. This is a terrific book, with (pardon the pun) lively writing and a frank attitude towards the topic and the rumors that surround it.
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I received an E-Arc of Dark Archives from netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Okay as soon as I saw what this book was about I knew I had to read it I first heard about books being down in human skin quite a few years ago honestly and it's just something that's always interested me Kip Moore bed and creepy and honestly quite frankly interesting as hell. And you know what this book was just what I was hoping it would be it felt a little dense at times but I didn't really mind and learning about how many different types of books were bound is really interesting. I would definitely recommend people check this out if they're into the morbid  and the macabre.

You can definitely tell that the author did the research very thoroughly and I really appreciate that.
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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.

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/
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I thought this book was an engaging look at the history of human skin books - definitely dark - but I learned a lot about this sordid topic.
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"Dark Archives" provides a fascinating look for the morbidly curious into the practice of anthropodermic bibliopegy--the binding of books with human skin. Not only does the author cover the specifics of the practice, she also provides interesting historical context about the specific titles she is investigating. "Dark Archives" will satisfy the curiosity of those interested in a wide variety of subjects including libraries/archives, bookbinding, the history of medicine, crime, and more.
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This book was everything I wanted it to be, and more. 

I first heard about Dark Archives on the Morbid Anatomy podcast, and I knew immediately that I had to read it, but it wasn't due out until October (quite appropriate but SO FAR AWAY!) I started following the author, Megan Rosenbloom, on Twitter and discovered that the book was available on NetGalley. I requested it immediately and crossed my fingers. 

Until I heard Megan speak on the podcast, I had NO IDEA that books bound in human skin was a thing. How had my macabre sensibilities missed this gem? However, this book is more than just Megan's quest to search out true anthropodermic bibliopegy (fancy words for "books made of human skin"), it's an education and procedural in antique books, it's' a study in medical ethics past and present, and a behind-the-scenes look at the exciting world of a medical librarian! You get to follow Megan around the globe as she hunts down various legendary tomes and testing them to see if they're the real deal. Some turn out to be made out of animal skins, but a handful turn out to be the real McCoy. 

Amidst the "treasure" hunt, you receive a brief education on the history of medicine in western world, how far doctors have come from paying grave robbers for bodies to autopsy to now using bodies that have been donated. It's a gruesome truth that is riddled with controversy when you consider how medicine has advanced from the dark ages on the literal backs of the poor, the murdered, and minorities. Collectors and librarians juggle their want and need to conserve history whilst trying to respect the memory of those whose bodies were used to enrich someone's personal library. 

Dark Archives is a fascinating read that brings together so many elements to create a well-rounded text that is as enjoyable as it is informative. 

Many thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I had no idea that there was such a thing as a book bound in human skin. I had a Silence of the Lambs moment several times throughout.  the book.  It was somewhat sickening, yet ghoulishly interesting.  There is much in this book for discussion in medical ethics and the dark side of human nature.  Worth a read and then some.
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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.
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What could be creepier than reading about the trial of a murderer than to be reading a copy bound in the perpetrator's own skin? Not since taking History of the Book in college has my imagination been so captivated by details of the bookmaking process. Dark archives takes you through the history of anthropodermic books.  The author shares with us a scholarly hunt to discover the providence of these tomes and use scientific testing to determine which volumes really are bound by human skin.
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Dark Archives is an amazing and fascinating journey about Rosenbloom’s quest to find anthropometric books. The book itself is very engaging through its well crafted tapestry of library and special collection visits, histories, rumors all while contextualizing the implications of this practice with our current understanding of informed consent. This book was so good, y’all.  The subject matter would have been trash in inexpert hands, so thank goodness that is not the case. I plan to purchase this book for both my personal collection and for my library—I always buy spooky, weird, or macabre books with my share of our popular reading collection funds at a university library and Dark Archives will fit in nicely.
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When life for the entire universe and planet turns on its end and like everyone else you "have nothing to do" while your place of work is closed and you are in #COVID19 #socialisolation,  superspeed readers like me can read 250+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. (I have played a "zillion games" of scrabble, done a "zillion crosswords" and I AM BORED!!!)

I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review.  

From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.

A fascinating, terrifying look at the rarest books—bound in human skin—and the stories of their creation

There are books out there, some shelved unwittingly next to ordinary texts, that are bound in human skin. Would you know one if you held it in your hand?
In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom, a medical librarian and a co-founder of the Death Salon, seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind anthropodermic bibliopegy. Dozens of these books still sit on the shelves of the world’s most famous libraries and museums. What are their stories?

Dark Archives exhumes their origins and brings to life the doctors, murderers, women, and indigents whose lives are bound together in this rare, scattered, and disquieting collection. It also tells the story of the scientists, curators, and librarians like Rosenbloom--interested in the full complicated histories behind these dark artefacts of nineteenth-century medicine--are developing tests to discover these books and sorting through the ethics of custodianship.

A whip-smart and witty writer, Rosenbloom has crafted a narrative that is equal parts detective work, academic intrigue, history, and medical curiosity. Thrilling, captivating, and macabre in all the right ways, Dark Archives encourages us to take another look at the very serious ways in which the powerful have objectified people over time--perfect for fans of Mary Roach, Lindsey Fitzharris, and the art of collecting.

No joking, this book made my skin crawwwwwwl.  It was so disturbing but so fascinating at the same time. It is a hard book to recount beyond its provided description but it was engrossing, which was excellent as there was actually a sport (a skins golf game) on the telly yesterday which meant that I was triply happy as I have not missed sports on TV for even a millisecond. (I sit and wear earplugs while rolling my eyes at idiotic, grossly over-paid butt heads.)

Diatribe aside, a very interesting book for a very specific audience - not an "every day for every person" read for sure!

As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I love emojis (outside of their incessant use by "🙏-ed Social Influencer Millennials/#BachelorNation survivors/Tik-Tok and YouTube  Millionaires/etc. " on Instagram and Twitter... Get a real job, people!) so let's give it 🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪
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Such a well researched and intriguing look into human skin binded books. As a librarian,  this caught my interest and took me deep into a world I had no clue existed outside of fantasy books. This has been and will continue be a good conversation piece with my fellow colleagues, friends and family alike.
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