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Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved
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Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  1,253 Ratings  ·  194 Reviews
Ludwig van Beethoven lay dying in 1827, a young musician named Ferdinand Hiller came to pay his respects to the great composer. In those days, it was customary to snip a lock of hair as a keepsake, and this Hiller did a day after Beethoven's death. By the time he was buried, Beethoven's head had been nearly shorn by the many people who similarly had wanted a lasting mement ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 9th 2001 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2000)
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La Tonya  Jordan
Nov 08, 2015 La Tonya Jordan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: History Readers
Recommended to La Tonya by: Palladium Bookies
Shelves: good-read
Ludwig Van Beethoven lay dying in 1827 and a young inspiring composer Ferdinand Hiller snip a lock of his hair as keepsake which was the custom of the day. How this lock of hair traveled through the centuries of 1827 Vienna to be auctioned and sold on December 2, 1994 by Sotheby's auction house in London, England is a mystery? The book takes the reader thru Vienna, Denmark, Cologne, the sea port city of Gilleleje, and countless interviews to piece together this mystery.

At times the book reads l
Aug 10, 2011 kingshearte rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
Although this book had an interesting story to tell, I had some issues with the way Martin chose to tell it.

For starters, the structure of the book was a little off-putting. He alternated chapters concerning the journey and fate of the hair with chapters about Beethoven's life, and I found that kind of jarring, somehow. I also found that he repeated himself a lot, and went into greater detail about seemingly minor incidents than felt necessary. Frankly, a lot of it felt like filler. This book co
Melissa T
Feb 11, 2008 Melissa T rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
As boring as this may sound--I was fascinated! It was amazing to see the progression of "beethoven's hair" along to modern times when we actually were able to do testing on it to find out why Beethoven was deaf. Probably my favorite part of the book was when his hair was with a violin in Denmark during WWII--it had probably 40 pages full of the heroism of the Danes during WWII. Obviously that has nothing to do with Beethoven (except that apparently a lock of his hair experienced it!), but well w ...more
Feb 01, 2015 Barbara rated it liked it
IN CASE you were just interested in the forensic stuff about the hair, just skip to page 176 (about the middle).

Pages 1 through 175 are a byzantine recounting of the provenance of the hair itself, which is interesting....but the author spends too much time going down rabbit holes. Those rabbit holes are described in excruciating detail and florid prose. Ultimately, the mystery of how the hair got from Vienna to a Danish fishing village remains undetermined.

However, the forensic stuff is fascinat
Kathleen Dixon
I hadn't read anything abut this finding of a lock of Beethoven's hair, so found the topic fascinating. However, I found the book far too wordy and I skimmed an awful lot of it. A slim volume, one quarter the size, would have held my interest and would have received 4 stars in a review.
Dec 09, 2014 Nick rated it it was ok
Oh dear.

I so wanted to read this book. The subject was good, Beethoven, Danish resistance, exploring the meaning of secular "relics" in modern times, and the promise of a historical detective story.

And it does contain those elements and I did find myself reading the book in one day. And I was very interested in the ending - which I won't spoil.


But I had to start reading quickly trying to find passages I wanted to read. For two reasons, ok, make it three:

1. His damned inelegant, difficult and
On the whole, I really liked this book. It told a fascinating story -- the journey of a lock of Beethoven's hair from Vienna to the United States, by way of Cologne, Germany, Gilleleje, Denmark, and London, England; and its subsequent scientific testing. The intertwined biographies of Beethoven and the people who loved him or interacted with him down the years were particularly fascinating.

So, why only three stars?

First, because of a certain apparent carelessness in some of the writing. For inst
Jon Cox
Jun 25, 2013 Jon Cox rated it did not like it
There is only one answer to my observation that all "Bestseller" books that I have read are extremely poorly written: there must be a list you can pay to get your book put on called the "Bestseller" list. Seriously. Beethoven's Hair, Colapse, Three Cups of Tea, and others, all claim to be "Bestsellers," and they are all pieces of trash. This book is so poorly written that I groaned out loud at some of the sentences. Take this one on page 97 for example:

"The temperature hovered barely above free
Rachel Pollock
May 14, 2015 Rachel Pollock rated it it was amazing
I do love a good, readble, well-paced nonfiction book on a compelling and odd topic, and this was a very good example of exactly that. Yes, it's ostensibly about how a lock of Beethoven's hair came to be auctioned by Sotheby's, and of course it weaves in a biographical sketch of the composer throughout, but it also takes the reader some pretty amazing and unexpected places: the heroic rescue efforts undertaken by the citizens of Denmark on behalf of their Jewish countrymen during the Holocaust, ...more
Feb 04, 2016 Gale rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An Historical Mystery Spanning Two Centuries

Fascinating reading--not only for admirers of Beethoven’s majestic music—but for amateur sleuths interested in forensics and the history of Nazi resistance. The author leads readers on a trail of hairpin curves back and forth across the Atlantic, over northern Europe, as well as America’s heartland, and both coasts. What did kill the flamboyant composer whose genius is ranked with Shakespeare? How could it be definitively proven after such a long lap
Eugenea Pollock
Mar 20, 2016 Eugenea Pollock rated it really liked it
I found this book to be a fascinating examination of the (1) provenance of a significant relic (analogous to that of a revered religious saint) and (2) possible cause(s) of Beethoven's deafness, as well as his other debilitating afflictions, I light of 21st century analytical tools. It had aspects of a scientific thriller, which I would love to have seen developed to a greater extent.
Jun 15, 2016 Jo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for my NF book group, theme: biography or autobiography of a composer.
I really had no interest in this topic and most of the biographies I found were extremely long and/or expected some familiarity with music theory - neither of which I could deal with. I found this library book, which had the appealing aspect of a mystery investigated and solved while giving a basic overview of Beethoven's life in alternate chapters.
I plodded through the first couple of chapters full of unfamil
Chris Burd
Mar 03, 2016 Chris Burd rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
If I hadn't been reading this for a book club discussion, I would most certainly have given up by page 30. The real mystery surrounding this book is how it managed to be a "bestseller". That must have been one heck of a marketing campaign.

Could this have been a really interesting book? Absolutely. The idea of following this relic through two turbulent centuries, while also solving the mystery of the death of one of the world's greatest composers, holds promise. Mr. Martin, however, did not do hi
May 27, 2014 Ashley rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
This was a fascinating read. Though it took me a little while to get into, on the whole I felt intrigued enough to plow on and was happy to know not only the scientific findings that came from testing the hair but more of the genius it came from. I also thoroughly enjoyed the segment on the heroic Danes of Gillelije in their efforts to aid both Jewish countrymen and refugees. In reading of the miraculous preservation of so many from Denmark I was reminded of a blessing that then apostle Joseph F ...more
Nov 08, 2015 Shawn rated it liked it
I never really understand the desire of some people to possess things that once belonged to (or in this case were part of) historic figures, and that's especially true when those things relate to the great composers. After all, it's the music, available to us all, that puts us most in touch with them. Nevertheless, I found this interesting and enjoyable, both as a (very condensed) biography of Beethoven and, more so, for the story of the relic and its path to two American collectors, as well as ...more
Jennifer Stringer
Feb 13, 2013 Jennifer Stringer rated it liked it
"Seriously, mama? You are reading a book about a ratty piece of hair." Grace Stringer
Feb 13, 2014 Jason rated it liked it
Told in alternating chapters as a biography of Beethoven and the rather remarkable odyssey of a lock of the great composer's hair that was clipped from his corpse the day after he died by 15 year old music prodigy Ferdinand Hiller. The story is quite fascinating for quite some time...then between 1911--when the then-84-year-old hair was re-set in a more secure locket setting by Hiller's son--history loses track of exactly where the hair was, until it mysteriously, and with very little explanatio ...more
Aug 22, 2014 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those magical books that draws you in slowly and then has you in tears when you least expect it. It is a beautiful, moving story of the provenance of a lock of Beethoven's hair and a good example of how sometimes the journey is more important than getting to the destination. By that I mean that you will learn about the results of the forensic testing of the hair, but what is more interesting is the journey the hair sample took since it was sheared off Beethoven's head after he die ...more
I really should give this three stars. The author is openly biased, and there are some editing issues. I can't. I'm too much a fan of Beethoven, too much a fan of a good treasure hunt, and too much a sucker for geeky science applied to solve long-standing mysteries to not be biased here.

Chapters about the life and death of Beethoven are alternated with chapters about what happened to the keepsake lock of hair after Beethoven's death until it ended up in the hands of a Arizona realtor and a Mexic
Feb 07, 2013 Shanidar rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Taking as an excuse the analysis of a Beethoven's lock of hair, "Beethoven's hair" is the biography of the musician, but also of all these people who owned the lock and the History through which it traveled.

It is a very emotive story, full of hypotheses and subjective novelization mixed with facts and data.

But in spite of all that, it is not a pleasant reading.
The text is full of exceedingly complex subordinate sentences (some of them 9 lines long with commas, dashes and additional comments,) f
Sep 08, 2009 Linda rated it liked it
This is the story of a lock of Beethoven’s hair, tracing its authenticity and provenance from Beethoven’s death until the year 2000 when DNA testing was done to try to determine the causes of Beethoven’s poor health and of his death. In Beethoven’s last days, his composer friend Johann Nepomuk Hummel, accompanied by Ferdinand Hiller, one of his students, visited Beethoven. When they returned after Beethoven’s death, Ferdinand asked permission to take some hair from Beethoven’s head. (This was a ...more
Dec 17, 2012 Mitchell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Mysteries of Beethovens Beethoven’s Hair was a fantastic book and an enlightening story. Once I started to uncover the amazing stories that these strands of hair went through I could not put it down. Along with the amazing story, some of the mysteries of Beethoven’s truly unique personality were uncovered. In this book you explore the lives of many different people, from the amazing Beethoven himself, to a French actor moved to America that changed his name. It all starts when Beethoven dies ...more
Oct 17, 2010 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: yanonfiction
This fascinating book is based on the adult book Beethoven's Hair also by Russell Martin. I've read both, and found that this one really had the details that I wanted. Of course, this book is intended for yound adult audiences so the sentence structure is less complicated as is the vocabulary.

The main question of the book revolves around "What caused Beethoven's deafness and his many periods of severe illess in his life?" Beethoven himself hoped that the question would be solved by someone post
Dec 26, 2009 Aida rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beethoven's life was plagued with illness, despite this he is remembered as one of the greatest composers to have ever lived. During his lifetime the cause of his illness was never known. Fast forward a few centuries and science has found the answer to the mystery of his illness and ultimately his cause of death. All this occurred because of what today would be called a "fan" of the great composer clipped a lock of his hair. This book is fast-paced and is written in such a way that the reader is ...more
Rick Rapp
Sep 22, 2015 Rick Rapp rated it really liked it
I read this book because it was recommended by a friend. At first, I was plodding along, and then suddenly the tale of this great composer's life and a lock of his hair clipped at his death became a compelling tale. I learned quite a bit about Beethoven's life and illnesses and quite a bit about the anti-Semitism that was already in place in 19th century Germany. I also learned of the brave efforts of the Danish people to shelter Jews, many of whom had fled to their country. This book is enterta ...more
Sep 17, 2011 Cathy rated it it was amazing
It was very interesting to learn more about Beethoven and that time period. It was especially enthralling to read about Denmark's success in protecting Jewish people from persecution in WWII -- with doctors in Copenhagen organizing safe havens in hospitals & clinics; boat ferries and even liners secreting Jewish away to Sweden from the northern fishing villages; political interventions and pressures that kept Danish Jews from being sent away from safe camps to be killed in others. And, the J ...more
Jul 12, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Beethoven's accomplishments, already amazing given his deafness, seem even more noteworthy in that he continuously battled ill health, romantic setbacks, and family challenges. Definitely an interesting life at an interesting time. Enjoyed how the author interspersed Beethoven's life with the journey through time of his lock of hair. And to think that hair has ended up only a few hours from me in San Jose, California. That has to be a day trip this summer!
Dec 30, 2014 Charlotte rated it did not like it
Sometimes, a 276 page book can seem longer than the bible. I had to renew it once from the library. I considered it quite an accomplishment the night I read 8 pages before falling asleep. I will NOT be reading any more books by Russell Martin. And in the end, we still don't know how Beethoven's Hair wound up where it did! Oh, and spoiler alert... cause of death to Beethoven was lead poisoning. I, on the other hand, almost died of boredom. That is my review.
Sep 06, 2008 Rodger rated it liked it
In 1827 a budding musician cut a lock of hair from the body of a recently deceased Ludwig Von Beethoven.

In 1995 two Americans employed scientists to open a simple locket that contained a lock of hair, purportedly from the great musician, Beethoven.

This book deals with two questions. 1. How did this lock of hair make the journey from early 19th century Vienna to a late 20th century London auction house, and 2. what does the examination of the hair tell us about the life and death of Beethoven.
Feb 22, 2016 WendyMcP rated it really liked it
One's life involves relationships with people -- not just while living but, for some, for the great among us, with those born decades, even centuries later. Such is this story of Beethoven, whose lock of hair linked him to a young 19th century Viennese piano student, a Jewish family in Nazi Germany, a Danish mother and son, and two men in the U.S. who, in 1994, were brought together by their love of all things Beethoven. Recommended.
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