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Frankenstein: A Cultural History

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  195 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
Frankenstein began as the nightmare of an unwed teenage mother in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1816. At a time when the moral universe was shifting and advances in scientific knowledge promised humans dominion over that which had been God's alone, Mary Shelley envisioned a story of human presumption and its misbegotten consequences. Two centuries later, that story is still cons ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 17th 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published October 9th 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 443)
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Mar 03, 2013 Williwaw rated it liked it
This is a well-written and fairly comprehensive survey of the enduring cultural resonance of the Frankenstein story. What surprised me was how quickly Mary Shelley's original story (1818) was adapted (and highly distorted) for the stage. A stage version had even reached America by 1825!

It's no surprise, of course, that the famous Universal Pictures version from 1931 shares more in common with the various stage versions than it does with the novel. In the novel, the Monster moves like the wind; h
Mar 24, 2008 Patrick rated it liked it
This is a well written, well researched, and very interesting tale of the origins of the Frankenstein story that Mary Shelley wrote in 1816, published in 1818, and revised in 1831, and how the concept has evolved through the past two centuries into a worldwide cultural touchstone, instantly familiar to all and used for a variety of purposes, from humorous and horrorific entertainment to a constant gag in political cartoons and speeches to a metaphor for the debate about the limits of scientific ...more
Jan 22, 2012 Diana rated it really liked it
I loved reading this. I started reading just before Halloween, but to give an example of the range of subject matter, here is a quotation that author Susan Hitchcock includes, from a book published in October 1931 by I. Maurice Wormser:

"...the modern Prometheus, who artifically created a vitalized monster which became the terror of 'all living things' and threatened the security and well-being of mankind. The fable is not without its application to the corporate business organization of to-day.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Interesting recap and survey of the Frankenstein story, retelling, and mythification since its creation as a challenge in 1818 by teenaged and pregnant Mary Wollstonecraft (not yet Shelley).

Hitchcock (prime name for a topic like this!) recounts the origins of the story, its early reception and publishing history, then tracks it through to its universal appeal and appearance as assumed common knowledge. She talks about the story and its ideas (often distorted and filtered two or three times remov
Aug 05, 2015 J.S. rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-culture
When I was around 8 or 9 years old I had an interest in movie monsters - never mind that I hadn't even seen the movies. This was back in the mid to late 70s before VCRs and "On Demand." I remember trying to stay up late Friday nights to watch "Nightmare Theater" but usually too afraid to stay up alone. As a teenager I read some of the books that inspired those movies and I recall being disappointed with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - not so much like the movie's story. But what makes Mrs. Hitchco ...more
Nov 02, 2012 Yasmin rated it really liked it
A very interesting account of the beginnings of the story of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein's creation. It is important to separate the two as it is the creation that has captured the imagination whether in book form or other visuals as opposed to the scientist that created the being. Indeed as the author points out the creation has taken on both myth and legendary porportions to a very extrodinary manner over three centuries. The creation as gone through more identity changes than possibly anythin ...more
Tim McGregor
Oct 15, 2012 Tim McGregor rated it it was amazing
That great shambling, lovable monster we call Frankenstein is arguably the most potent, recognizable literary figure to stalk the past two centuries and will no doubt leave its asphalt-spreader boot imprints on the current century. Clomping through the pages of literature, film and pop culture, the neck-bolted creature casts a shadow unmatched by others.

All of it born from the imagination of a girl barely out of her teens, fleeing across Europe with her poet husband, flouting convention and trad
Jul 29, 2015 Faye rated it liked it
I put this book aside while I was reading another and I wasn't going to finish it, but last night I picked it up and read the last few chapters. This was an interesting history and a great exploration of how a cultural icon develops. And while I am a fan of classic Hollywood and appreciate the art and interpretation of the Frankenstein monster through the years, I loved the first part of the book the most! Mary Shelly is one of the most interesting women in literary history. It reminded me of a ...more
Hannah Givens
Dec 31, 2014 Hannah Givens rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
This might be one of my favorite nonfiction books, and I wish there were more books like it. It's a thorough history of Frankenstein's impact on culture. It starts with Frankenstein's creation and the early stage adaptations, then a thorough treatment of the 20th-century movies, sequels, parodies, etc. It finishes up with the myth's relevance to modern science and feminism. Nothing is just described, everything is discussed. Sleek, never boring. Love it!
Oct 19, 2010 Tasha rated it really liked it
The chapters about the conception of the story, Mary Shelley's life and early reception of the book are really fascinating, as are the chapters about the early films depicting the changed story of Frankenstein. I felt that the book fell off at the end though, or maybe I just wasn't as interested in the barely-related stories of political references to Frankenstein or cloning. All in all, a very fascinating read.

"She dared to approach the forbidden, ignoring conventional laws of good and evil; sh
Apr 20, 2015 Yvonne rated it liked it
Purporting to be a "cultural history" of Frankenstein, this text starts out a little heavy on the influence of Milton and all the men in Mary Shelley's life on her masterwork and then moves into a overly-descriptive history of early film adaptations of the novel. If you're looking for a book about the development of the "Frankenstein" monster - this is a decent enough starting place. If you're looking for a scholarly study of Mary Shelley's novel, this has some info but nothing you can't find in ...more
Dec 15, 2012 Stephen rated it really liked it
A fascinating history of the Fraknestein genesis and the story's ongoing presence in literary, film and general culture. Beginning with the writing of the story and the circumstances surrounding that to the first films and the ongoing adaptation of the name to fit different circumstances, the influence of the name "Frankenstein" is examined. Never overwhelmingly academic in style but clearly thoroughly researched, this is definitely a good read. (And in the fun fact area....the first parody of F ...more
Nov 30, 2008 Kristie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Frankenstein fans, feminists, folklore enthusiasts
Shelves: from-the-library
The cover of the hardcover edition of this book is deceptive. The bright colors and variety of pictures led me to believe it would be a fairly lightweight pop-culture love-fest with lots of pictures.

It's not. It's a thoughtful, well-researched and quite scholarly history of the Frankenstein myth, from its origins during a summertime thunderstorm through the various stage and film adaptations, to its contemporary political and cultural meanings. Frankenstein is one of my very favorite books (the
Michael Poteet
Nov 06, 2011 Michael Poteet rated it liked it
"Leftover" Halloween reading... a really interesting and entertaining survey of why and how Mary Shelley's monster still has such a grip on our imagination. One of the most interesting things I learned was that the novel didn't gain acceptance as a "classic" worthy of serious study until the early 1970s... and I was reading it as required reading in tenth grade English just over a decade later! It's also inspired me to finally get around to watching the rest of the Universal Frankenstein films ( ...more
Jan 17, 2012 Nicole rated it really liked it
What can I say? The modern Prometheus is now the modern myth-- the fabric of Western culture, stitched into modern consciousness where it sees a fit. Frankenstein: A Cultural History is a balanced and well-researched survey of how Mary W. Shelley's novel climbed into our modern consciousness and continues to speak. This is the first of several books that I'm reading for teaching a unit on Frankenstein. So far, it is the most useful. I highly recommend this book for exploring the cultural signifi ...more
Rivka D.
Jan 20, 2016 Rivka D. rated it really liked it
Really thorough and readable--good reference.
May 31, 2015 Brent rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A fun look at the creature and creator from Mary Shelly to the modern take on this always popular story.
Jun 30, 2008 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008
This was an interesting walk through the "cultural history" of Frankenstein. Since I haven't ready Mary Shelly's original nor seen any of the movies, this was a good introduction, and I'll be sure to add Frankensein to my "To Read" list. I was a little disappointed that it wasn't more of a literary critism book, but I suppose the title should have warned me. I think the first third was on the author and the novel, but the rest on plays, movies, comics, and other cultural references.
Joel Manuel
Jan 01, 2012 Joel Manuel rated it liked it
I agree with other reviewers who've said that the cover is deceptive. This book is a bit more "scholarly" in its examination of the pervasive nature of the Frankenstein story/myth/legend since its publication in 1817. I kind of lost interest when it got to the human cloning section, and I frowned when I saw a few glaring and obvious errors in Hitchcock's discussion of the Universal Frankenstein movies (Lionel Atwill was NOT in Bride of Frankenstein, for example).
Jul 21, 2012 Joel rated it liked it
The historical background to Shelley's life and inspiration were really interesting, as were some of the explorations of how the monster transformed from a threat to something comfortable and back to horrible, but too much of the book was just describing different movies or political cartoons. I missed the deeper analysis that I was looking for; it was brushed on, but not explored. Overall, it gave me some good fodder for background and discussion, but it wasn't stellar.
Kathy  Petersen
I became acquainted with Frankenstein and his creature through the local Saturday night Spooktacular as my cousins and I would turn off the lights and dare each other not to scream. I was intrigued to read the original at a relatively young age, 12 or so, and enjoyed the book immensely. Revisited several times in my adult years, Frankenstein has remained a favorite. Thus I especially enjoyed Hitchcock's thoroughly researched and wide-ranging volume.
Oct 23, 2008 Eric rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2008
To me, Frankenstein's monster is the ultimate outsider. Made by man, shunned by mankind. There is no place in this world for him to exist. But the myth of the monster remains ambiguous (to say the least). The big guy can be scary or funny, depending on the situation. Author Susan Tyler Hitchcock does a pretty good job of explaining the appeal of Mary Shelley's famous creature. Recommended for all Frankenstein freaks. You know who you are.
Dec 02, 2009 Rosy rated it really liked it
This book was a surprisingly delightful read. I now know more about Frankenstein than I ever needed to know. It is thorough and insightful, from the beginnings of Dr. Frankenstein's monster to our continued preoccupation with the story. Big plusses go to the images in the book, from movie posters to political cartoons. A great book on a topic I never knew I wanted to learn more about.
Apr 11, 2012 Jeremy rated it liked it
Four stars for the first half, (maybe) only two for the second. The bits on Mary Shelley and the origins of the book were well presented, particularly the way in which Shelley's biography informed her writing. I was really interested in the ways in which the story and the character spread throughout popular culture, and while there's a lot of it here it doesn't always pop.
Derek Tatum
Oct 18, 2011 Derek Tatum rated it really liked it
"Frankenstein: A Cultural History," delivers exactly what it promises — no more, no less. Very little of this book was new to me, though there were a few things here and there that I was not previously aware of. But while readers familiar with "Frankenstein" may not find a lot of new insights here, this is a pretty solid book for neophytes. The cover is awesome.
Nov 19, 2009 Andrew rated it really liked it
I rather enjoyed this cultural history of The Monster. It is the kind of book that I would probably write, if it weren't already written. I only wish Hitchcock was a little more analytical. This seemed more like a survey class book than a real cultural studies type book. However, it is quite fun and well research. I can never get enough of The Monster it seems
Apr 20, 2015 Amber rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Mary Shelley was an unwed teenage mother when she wrote FRANKENSTEIN. Or, she was going to be. She was pregnant and she had run away to Italy with Percy Shelley and his tubercular friends. One of many fun facts that awaits you in the cultural history of a favorite monster that I fear will grow obscure in the recent rash of vampire fanaticism.
Steve Wiggins
Dec 24, 2013 Steve Wiggins rated it it was amazing
Excellent introduction and exploration of how Frankenstein's monster has come to permeate much of western culture. Highly recommended. More comments at Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
Feb 19, 2008 John rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: mad scientists
Shelves: nonfiction
A detailed overview of the life of Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein novel. An overview, nonetheless, which quickly moves through a cultural history of the monster. All aspects are briefly dispatched with little exposition or explanation. Occasionally insightful and almost always fun, tho, for any fan.
Jun 22, 2015 Emmy rated it really liked it
This was a wonderful book about Shelley's masterpiece and all the adaptations and spawnings of it that have come afterwards. If you have any interest in this topic, then I cannot recommend this enough! It was well-thought out, beautifully written, and bursting with great information!
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Madison Mega-Mara...: Frankenstein: A Cultural History 1 3 Nov 07, 2012 07:29AM  
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Susan Tyler Hitchcock has written 13 books, including Frankenstein: A Cultural History, Mad Mary Lamb, and Coming About: A Family Passage at Sea. She has degrees in English from the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. She works as a book editor for the National Geographic Society. She has been collecting Frankensteiniana for more than 20 years. She and her husband live in the ho ...more
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