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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

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  1,009 ratings  ·  168 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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(showing 1-30 of 1,718)
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Melissa T
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
Barbara
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
...more
Deirdre
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
...more
Jon Cox
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
...more
kingshearte
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
...more
Nick
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.

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
...more
Yaaresse
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
...more
Ashley
May 27, 2014 Ashley rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Jennifer Stringer
"Seriously, mama? You are reading a book about a ratty piece of hair." Grace Stringer
Jason
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
Shannon
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
Shanidar
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
...more
Linda
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
Laura
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
...more
Aida
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
Cathy
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
Jennifer
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!
Julie
There was some interesting information here, but it was SO repetitive - it reminded me of someone stretching to make a page number goal for a school assignment. It kept looping back on the mystery of who exactly handed the hair to Kay Fremming during the mass Jewish exodus from Denmark, giving just a tiny bit more information each re-telling. I think the same information could have been presented in a long magazine article, and it would have been wonderful.
Charlotte
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.
Rodger
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.
...more
Monica!
There are two reasons this book will never be read by me.

First off, I'm not a big enough fangirl. I read one page, where I was greeted by the words:

“For someone to have that many maladies and to suffer to greatly and yet produce superhuman music, music that can actually elevate the spirit to a much different plane than the ordinary plane we live in, is quite phenomenal. To get this close to a man who was able to do this… for me it’s a personal triumph. Acquiring the hair already has changed my l
...more
Jen (Fefferbooks)
I'm a musician, and I love Beethoven. But I also love good writing.

There are enough facts on record regarding the author's subject--and he knows this; he's included them in the book--to avoid having to make any wild suppositions about the lives of his real-life characters. It's bothering me no end.

I'm also irritated by the complete lack of chronology here. It's a non-fiction book purporting to follow the life of a lock of hair; I don't mind a bit of jumping around, but I find myself irritated
...more
Cara
It was very exciting to read about how the hair was saved for so long and the testing done on it. I was very excited to read about the scientific testing but it really only goes into that in the beginning and end of the book. The middle was all about the people and politics of who had the hair when which I was not as interested about.
Sandy
I read the kid/teen version of this book after hearing it raved about. And really, I kind of get the appeal. It's just weird enough to draw people in, and I actually imagine that the original adult version is pretty good. But I just kept wanting more as I read this one. I craved the information that I'm sure was edited out to make this book shorter and easier for the younger audience.

Also, the book jumps around an awful lot, and I was never sure why. It was actually very bothersome to have rando
...more
JennEllen
I would love to give this book a higher rating because the content was extremely interesting. The biographical information about Beethoven was very basic and nothing I didn't already know (though that, too, might be interesting to the reader without a degree in musicology), but that's not where the bulk of the story lies--it is, after all, called Beethoven's HAIR, not just Beethoven. And the journey of the hair is an interesting one, indeed. Unfortunately that story is somewhat hampered by the w ...more
Jerry Smith
I like this type of book. Weaves the story of Beethoven into an account of a lock of his hair taken shortly after his death and preserved in a locket. The locket in question made it's way to Denmark during WW2, presumably carried by jews fleeing nazi persecution.

A straightforward bio of the great man follows plus speculation as to the cause of his ill health, supported by evidence from hair samples subsequently tested. Also a fascinating insight (albeit very top level and superficial) of Denmark
...more
Sharon
What a great, true story! A young music student visits Beethoven's deathbed and clips a lock of hair, which stays in his family until WWII. In the 90's, it shows up for auction at Sotheby's and is bought by two American Beethoven afficianados, who subject the hair to various tests in an effort to determine what actually led to his deafness and multiple other medical problems. A virtual who's who of 19th and 20th century historical figures, as well as a concise biography of Beethoven. Marred slig ...more
Jeffrey
Apr 13, 2012 Jeffrey rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jeffrey by: a patient, Irwin G.
It got a bit repetitive at the end. The "conceit" of this book, to follow a lock of hair and in doing so tell about the life of a great composer, from whose head it was taken after death, and the times he lived in, was an interesting beginning. It turned into a mystery as the lock got lost for a few years as it left Germany during WWII and then reappeared in Denmark. I am glad I read it, as it helped me to see Ludwig V. Beethoven as a man, and, as a medical mystery. The mystery of Beethoven's il ...more
Paul
The mysteries of Beethoven's hair / Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley- good enjoyable read; A page turner and a real mystery. Reading the book prompted me to download a number of Beethoven pieces from iTunes.I enjoyed the mystery of this particular lock of hair – When it was clipped; who owned and treasured the locket; how it was rescued from the Nazis by an unknown Jewish individual who gave the locket to a Danish doctor. From there, the story recounts how the locket eventually found a home at th ...more
Zolani Ngwane
A closely researched account of the legacy of Beethoven's torturous life imaginatively protrayed through the story of the musician's lock of hair as it passed down over a period of hundred years through the family of an admirer. Around this fetish and the human passions - for beauty, memory, love, and pleasure - it generates over the years evolves also the story of a self-cannibalizing civilization generating, in its own turn, parallel passions - for survival, solidarity and salvation - that mar ...more
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