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Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead
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Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead

3.55  ·  Rating Details ·  280 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews

A fascinating, intelligent, and sometimes funny tour of the human relics at the root of the world’s major religions

By examining relics—the bits and pieces of long-dead saints at the heart of nearly all religious traditions—Peter Manseau delivers a book about life, and about faith and how it is sustained. The result of wide travel and the author’s own deep curiosity, fill

Hardcover, 243 pages
Published March 31st 2009 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 2009)
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Mar 30, 2010 Milan/zzz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is one of my top 2009 reads; moreover before I sent it away I had to reread it :)
It is also probably most surprising reading experience I’ve had for a very long time. It’s a great travelog, it’s incredibly funny, equally educational, shocking (how surprising!), ticklingly blasphemous, and absolutely bizarre!

You really would not even imagine (if you’re unfamiliar with the world of relics like myself) what people are able to do with something (human origin) that consider sacred but even
May 18, 2009 Richard rated it liked it
Though the subject matter of this book is profoundly interesting, this book is clearly a collection of individual essays rather than a book about this subject. The fascination with the remains of saints--such a subject would seem to be something that could write itself with a vast level of interest, and I started off this book rather peaked, but slowly my interest waned, as each chapter went through pretty much the same form of introduction-background-quirky character-letdown. This sequence ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Sally added it
The author is a magazine editor, and it shows in his latest book. A travelogue and introduction to various relics of the world, it is pleasant to read and occasionally made me laugh out loud. Each chapter wraps up neatly, but sometimes tritely, like an article in a glossy magazine. Despite the rich topic, in his effort to make his writing accessible to every last person, he fails to make very many interesting conclusions or to delve very far into any topic or idea. He also manages to completely ...more
Jul 13, 2016 Tiffany rated it it was ok
Shelves: religion-atheism
Interesting but...I kind of wanted the author to have a little more intellectual curiosity about the true nature of the relics. Rather than confront the fact that most of them are fakes, he kind of says at the end that it doesn't really matter. But if it doesn't matter, why is he so cagey about identifying them either way? and if, as he says, it's almost more interesting if they are NOT real, I need a bit more from him about the WHY of these particular relics. It felt like there was an elephant ...more
Jul 05, 2009 Brian rated it liked it
A good book as far as it goes, but it tends to come off more as a series of essays or impressions and less like a cohesive book. Manseau also tries a little too hard to be quirky at times. However, he handled the subject with respect and obvious interest, and I thought it was largely well done. I'm just disappointed that there wasn't more depth.
Elizabeth Cole
Oct 26, 2014 Elizabeth Cole rated it really liked it
Being raised as a devout Catholic I was very interested in reading more about Relics. However this book not only covered Catholic relics, but Buddhist and Hindu relics as well. I learned a lot what qualifies a relic and how easy people were passing fakes off as relics before they put more stringent guideslines on them.
Sep 23, 2013 Pam rated it liked it
I was interested in reading *Rag and Bone* because I have an interest in things such as this, strange as it may sound. I loved Mary Roach's *Stiff* and Christine Montross's *Body of Work*, both of which are exemplary and deserving of 5 stars. Manseau starts out well enough, beginning with the story of Roman Catholic relics. His writing is lively and held my interest. As the book progressed, however, his writing became duller and digressed into far too much philosophical ramblings.

There's an imp
Aug 22, 2009 Andy rated it really liked it
In this short but wonderfully entertaining book, Peter Manseau examines the cultural and theological significance of bits of dead people, and across a wide spectrum of faiths—Catholicism, Russian Orthodox, Buddhism, Islam—he finds surprising commonality in the status and meaning of relics. For religious (and sometimes secular) communities, relics are supremely important because they make elements of faith graspable and real.

Manseau describes his encounters with numerous far-flung relics, includi
Pat Loughery
Mar 18, 2011 Pat Loughery rated it really liked it
One of the most unique non-fiction books I've ever read. It really made me think, and was at times silly, repulsive and odd.

A few years ago I had the occasion to travel to eastern Orthodox lands.

In Istanbul, our student group visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and in their church building are the relics of St John Chrysostum. It was a sacred moment for me, one who's never considered relics worth considering.

On another occasion day of that trip, our group was honored to be in a place where the
Jan 09, 2011 Loren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: morbid-books
A book about traveling to visit holy relics: what could be better than that? It could have been bigger, for one thing. It could have had illustrations, whether photographs, ephemera from Manseau's trips, or merely sketches. And it could have been arranged not the in order of Manseau's adventures, since one didn't necessarily build from and comment on the previous, but in chronological order of the relics. I found it hard to keep the history clear.

Manseau seeks out at least one fleshly representa
Terry Earley
May 20, 2009 Terry Earley rated it liked it
Manseau treats the subject of people's veneration of relics with kindness and respect. There was a lot to learn here, about the relics of others and our own religious, political and personal relics.
From page 11:
"While questions of relics' origins and provenance fascinate me, to see a finger believed to be that of John the Baptist is to see an object that people have come to kneel before and pray to for centuries. I am as interested in the stories it has inspired as in the story of the object it
Caroline Mathews
Jul 15, 2012 Caroline Mathews rated it liked it
A book author (anyone with time and money to travel could have researched and written this book) should not berate a famous French medical doctor/anthropologist for his difficulties with English. Do you not speak French? And then to quote him, verbatim, in his search for words with which to communicate his thoughts to you? How irritating!

A Gentle Ribbing (name of said chapter), indeed. You, yourself, came off jealous, peevish, and more than a little childish and churlish when speaking of Dr Cha
Jan 19, 2012 Manda rated it liked it
Very entertaining read, especially if you,like me, like travel commentary. Nice series of travelogues collected as he spanned the globe visiting religious relics and the living people in charge of said relics. I particulary enjoyed the story about his visit to Jerusalem and his time with Saint Elizabeth and her Orthodox Nun keepers. Mostly because he paid such respect to the Sister with which he toured the holy site.

I was, however put off by the religious snark factor. I enjoy sarcasm and wit, d
Sep 28, 2011 Snob rated it liked it
Sen dúbida o libro que máis rápido papei nos últimos meses, pero non che me acabou de convencer. Eu ía todo hooligan do ateísmo e seareiro da sordidez, coa pirola de fóra, agardando un festival da ironía bruta sobre un dos aspectos máis delirantes das relixións, e levei nos fuciños. Porque isto é un libro de viaxes entretido e cheo de información, escrito por un xornalista e teólogo moi estadounidense, un tipo deses aos que a FE, a espiritualidade e as monxiñas lles parecen boa cousa - aínda que ...more
Jul 09, 2011 Sesana rated it liked it
Not exactly an exhaustive examination of religious relics, nor does it try to be. Instead, this book explores the concept of religious relics as they have existed in the past and how they get by today, and includes extensive information on a few selected relics that seem pretty representative of the whole concept. It's not a reverent account, which made it more appealing for me, but it is respectful. Really, what it was lacking was a clear chronology (there simply isn't one, nor any overarching ...more
Oct 02, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
I am getting into social aspect books. I saw this one at Borders a while back, and finally checked it out. It didn't keep me as interested as I had hoped, in terms of really looking forward to sitting down with it each day, but it was definitely interesting to see how different cultures and religions take care of what they consider the holy dead. What are considered relics, how people go about getting them, etc. The extent people go (for example, a woman went to "kiss" a spiritual leader's dead ...more
Feb 05, 2015 Mina rated it really liked it
I've always had a bit of a fascination with the sort of relic that involves parts of the actual saint. This book gives a nice handful of "case studies" not just of saints' remains, but also things like Buddha's teeth and The Prophet's whiskers. The author makes a good case for veneration of these "leftovers" going all the way back to the beginning of funerary rites.

Now that I have read this, I know way more about Jesus' foreskin than I ever thought I would. Truly, reading broadens the mind.
Nov 18, 2013 Kristen rated it liked it
As others have mentioned, the book is somewhat of a travelogue of the author's trips. As a result of that, the book is organized by trip and jumps around. For example, one trip is to see a Buddha relic, the next is to see Christian relics, but then he jumps back to see another Buddha relic. The book contains a number of interesting facts and the introduction is a bit of a primer concerning relics, but I was expecting a little bit more out the book. It was a fast, easy read and I did learn some ...more
Jun 13, 2013 VeganMedusa rated it really liked it
Shelves: bc-copy, non-fiction
A fascinating and humorous read. What surprised me was how respectful he is of people's beliefs. The author tends to doubt the authenticity of most of the relics but is more interested in why people need these relics, what the relics mean to people and the lengths people will go to to acquire or keep them.

My favourite sentence: There are several other Buddha's teeth in the world today, and all of them are politically active.

Also, I will never again think of Saturn's rings without thinking of ba
This was an interesting nonfiction book. Manseau travels the world, visiting religious relics. Whether he's in a mosque in Aleppo, Syria, or a monastery in Goa, India, his travels and recounting of the history of relics are always interesting. Sometimes the book felt a little too breezy, and I would've liked a more traditional narrative structure. In the end, I was left wanting more, more information, more stories, more relics. Overall, a quick and enjoyable travelogue worth a read, especially ...more
May 03, 2009 Richard rated it really liked it
Something of a romp through the world of relic adoration. We get chapters on Buddha's tooth, strands of hair from Mohammed' s beard, and my favorite, Jesus's foreskin - which some people think ended up as one of the rings around Saturn. This is a book to kick off a fatwah from any one of the world's major religions, but if you can check your righteousness at the door it's amusing and educational. I mean, prior to this book I've never given even half a thought to Jesus's foreskin, now it's dinner ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Peter Manseau visits the remains of the world's holy dead people--St. Francis Xavier in India, the fund-raising Buddhist traveling relic exhibit (coming to a yoga studio near you!), the forensic examination of what might be Joan of Arc (it wasn't), the fired caretakers of Muhammad's beard hair in Kashmir, the feuding over the body of Ella Romanov by nuns representing the Russian Orthodox in America and Russian Orthodox Churches and the political use of a Buddha tooth by Myanmar monks to protest ...more
Donna Jo Atwood
Jul 31, 2009 Donna Jo Atwood rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, religion
Manseau writes about what seems to be the need and fascination among many peoples and religions for religious relics. Even those religions which deny relics officially have some item or other that is venerated.
From the first chapter about the Catholic St. Francis Xavier's uncorrupted body in Goa, India to the Muslim hair from the beard of the Prophet in Kashmir to the tooth of the Buddha in Sr Lanka, we are told some of the stories, the background, and attitudes toward these relic.
This is a fine
May 13, 2009 Maria rated it liked it
A thought-provoking examination of the disconnect between most religious traditions' emphasis on spirituality and their veneration of physical relics. Manseau traces not only the Christian history of treasuring relics, but the parallel practices in Hindiusm, Buddism, and Islam. The book is composed of a series of essays, each focusing on one particular relic. The writing can grow a bit dry at moments, but overall, it's quite interesting.
Jun 03, 2012 Wileyacez rated it it was ok
For whatever reason, this one did not grab me. This was sad, because I had high hopes--a book about how religious relics have been important and continue to be important to some folks holds great promise. As Mr. Manseau moves through this world, he just plain fails to grab my full interest. I won't be keeping this one in my personal collection; it might be better in the hands of someone who will enjoy it more.
Feb 12, 2010 Paul added it
An irreverent romp through 3 continents and 20 centuries of relics.
""Those who believe in relics will rarely be presuaded they are anything other than what their faith says they are; those who suppose all relics are frauds will likewise rarely be persuaded that there is any value in the belief they inspire. p. 132

Muslim and Buddhist relics are also included in this world wide travalogue and of those who make pilgrimages to be in their presence.
Feb 09, 2010 Erica rated it liked it
A little hard to get through because each chapter seems to follow the same setup. However it was interesting, funny but respectful and thought-provoking. When I finished it I wondered though why we place so much importance on parts of dead "saints" but regret to see our modern day "saints" right in front of us.
Bess Lovejoy
Jun 23, 2011 Bess Lovejoy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rest-in-pieces
I am loving this book. Manseau is a model for how to present complicated information in an easy-to-read style. The anecdotes are priceless! Today I could not stop laughing when I discovered that a 17th century custodian of the Vatican library proposed that Jesus's foreskin had become Saturn's newly-discovered ring. For the whole story on Jesus's foreskin, read this book!
Aug 22, 2011 Theresa rated it liked it
Surprisingly light considering it's all about the theft of revered human body parts. I appreciated the author's inclusion of major faiths other than Catholicism with regard to relics, and knowing he is a theology phD candidate at Georgetown lends credibility to some of the facts that would be otherwise hard to research and verify. Quirky little read!
Dec 17, 2015 itpdx rated it really liked it
Recommended to itpdx by: Zzz/Milan
Shelves: non-fiction
Peter Manseau visits relics of many religions. He explains the history of humanity's relationship to the remains of holy people who have left us. He relates his experiences and shares his thoughts on what this could mean.
The book is respectful but has it's humorous moments and does not shy from the questions of authenticity.
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“No other foreskin could have caused such trouble.” 3 likes
“THAT NO ONE knows what happened to Jesus’s foreskin is particularly interesting because there used to be upwards of a dozen in circulation.” 1 likes
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