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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

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  1,426 Ratings  ·  209 Reviews
Book Description Publication Date: October 9, 2001 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 ma ...more
Paperback, 275 pages
Published October 9th 2001 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2000)
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La Tonya  Jordan
Oct 25, 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 02, 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
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.
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
Aug 25, 2010 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
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
Jan 31, 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
Rachel Pollock
Jan 15, 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
Eugenea Pollock
Feb 08, 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.
Jennifer Stringer
Aug 28, 2012 Jennifer Stringer rated it liked it
"Seriously, mama? You are reading a book about a ratty piece of hair." Grace Stringer
Feb 15, 2017 Nina rated it it was amazing
This was really fascinating. A clipped lock of Beethoven's hair was purchased from a Danish Sotheby's auction by two Americans, who then began a sleuthing investigation to figure out how it had landed in Denmark as well as pay for tests on the hair to see if they could determine the cause of Beethoven's decades of multiple health problems and deafness. The book gives us a history of the Vienna music scene in the early 19th century and a little known history of how the Danish people helped the Je ...more
Peter Steiner
Feb 27, 2017 Peter Steiner rated it it was amazing
My Beautiful Granddaughter, Rayna, was born on the day this genus was born. So the story had extra special resonance.

It is amazing how Beethoven suffered from a confluence of severe maladies and was still able to produce such sublime and everlasting music.

This book is a travelogue through time, struggles and triumph. A medical whodunnit, stories of great composers and their relationships and stories about wartime struggles and post-war adventures.

I loved this book and highly recommend it.
Jun 21, 2017 Gearymorris rated it liked it
Ugh... it kept droning on and I could not take it any longer!
Kaine Palmer
Quite a interesting read, mixing a Beethoven biography with some mystery. Very well versed.
Mar 19, 2017 Caitlin rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017-reads
The first couple of chapters I was lost. There was a whole chapter of the guy who first cut the lock of hair sandwiched in between history between Beethoven's history. I was confused of who's story we were covering. Around page 50 I figured out the pattern and liked it. The author stretched some of the material at time. It could have been edited down.
Karen Zelano
Feb 13, 2017 Karen Zelano rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and Frustrating

I found and read this book to learn more about Ludwig Von Beethoven, whom my father idolized. He passed away two months ago and I felt listening to more of Beethoven's music and reading about his life might help me better understand my dad's great love of him. As a medical professional , I thought this book a good place to start, and I am not disappointed. This story is indeed a mystery and the facts which have been uncovered are fascinating- leaving us hungry for more
Dec 30, 2013 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
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
Feb 14, 2017 Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought I had reserved the adult version of the same book at the library, but am quite glad I had the young adult one. At nearly four times as long, I think there might have been more than I needed to know in the full version! However this was a fascinating look at what a lock of Beethoven's hair, snipped from his head the day after his death, and with a clear provenance from that time on, could tell us about Beethoven's life, constant illnesses, profound deafness, and death.
Jan 15, 2011 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
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
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
Oct 16, 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
Jim Willse
Feb 12, 2017 Jim Willse rated it liked it
I'm not sure what to make of this. It's overwritten throughout, under reported in some spots and well reported in others. The passages about Ferdinand Hiller's life and the Danes' remarkable rescue of the Jews in WWII are fascinating clip jobs, but the inquiry into Beethoven's death is more than a little speculative and breathless.
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
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
Jul 15, 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
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.
Sep 07, 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
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