Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius
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Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  111 ratings  ·  20 reviews
The after-death stories of Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig Beethoven, Swedenborg, Sir Thomas Browne and many others have never before been told in such detail and vividness.

Fully illustrated with some surprising images, this is a fascinating and authoritative history of ideas carried along on the guilty pleasures of an anthology of real-after-life gothic tales.

Beginning dramati...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Unbridled Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Nicola Mansfield
Reason for Reading: I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction taking place during Victorian times and was interested in what this book had to offer from that time period especially on the topic of Phrenology. I also simply have a taste for the morbid.

Cranioklepty concentrates on man's fascination with human skulls and what they can tell us about the criminal, insane and especially the genius. The book covers the time period from 1790 through the early 1900s though the lasting effects take us right...more
Nancy Oakes
Each one of these people has something in common beyond the fact that they're famous (okay, and that they're dead): the composers Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart; Spanish artist Francisco Goya; and philosophers Emanuel Swedenborg and Thomas Browne, and Rene Descartes have all at some point in time had their skulls stolen. Not only were they taken, but they were moved around Europe, often under shrouds of mystery that would not be cleared up in any short order. Cranioklepty examines why and how these...more
Grave robbing and the stealing of skulls were common in the nineteenth century. Fueled by the “sciences” of Phrenology and Craniometry, scientists, doctors, fortunes seekers, and idolizers sought to own, display, and study the skulls of the famous, in part to answer the question, “Can genius be quantified?” Dickey tells the stories of the skulls of Haydn, Beethoven, Thomas Browne and others against the backdrop of revolutionary advances in scientific and medical knowledge. What might seem macabr...more
Cheryl Klein
People use the phrase "dead and buried" to imply just how very over and complete a thing is. This true tale of famous composers, writers and mystics whose heads were stolen by phrenologists and their contemporaries proves that no person or subject is guaranteed eternal rest. As the poor skulls of Joseph Haydn and Emanuel Swedenborg bounce between various collectors and pseudo-scientists, Dickey paints a portrait of a unique period in history, when Enlightenment reason overlapped with relic-worsh...more
Kathy  Petersen
Do skulls exhibit symptoms of genius? That's why the heads of Haydn, Swedenborg, and some others were separated from the rest of their skeletons. Dickey follows the merry chase and eventual (usually, that is) reunion of the bones, with informative sidebars on the people and the science and pseudoscience that sought crania and of course those whose skulls were so eagerly sought -- and bought.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I must admit it was much like narrative reporting rather than any...more
Fascinating read for a macabre anthro major such as myself. The only negative is that the modern history of skull robbing was rather limited -- based on the book jacket I was hoping for more on the Skull and Bones at Yale. Given the detail and meticulous research for the first 85% of the book, I would have loved more "meat" in the last 15%. . Overall, it was fascinating, engaging, and well written. For those who enjoy learning more about such topics, I highly recommend.
I never really thought much about the skulls of people who were incredibly smart but after reading this book, I must admit that I find the subject intriguing. I'm not saying I'm going to go searching for some skulls to keep in my basement, but I enjoyed reading Colin's book. It's informative and well written. A great Halloween read!
An interesting look at the history of grave robbing - specifically, the looting of famous people's skulls. Covers phrenology, hero worship, forensic method - and the skulls of Mozart, Haydn, Swedenborg and many others.
Marzipan would have been the singular reason for my picking up of this book from the shelves. But it seems I have yet a ways to go before quitting my fascination with death and her history.
Annette Boehm
I picked this up on a whim, -- the cover art is intriguing, as is the title -- and I was not disappointed. This is a very accessible, fun-to-read nonfiction book that takes you through the history of phrenology without becoming boring. Along the way, you'll run into Haydn, Beethoven, Walt Whitman, George Eliot, Mark Twain, Napoleon Bonaparte, and another handful of interesting and somewhat familiar historical figures. I really enjoyed this. As usual, I have a more in-depth review of the book on...more
nothing like a little morbid summer reading. quick read, lots of fun little tidbits, but overall had a bit of a disorganized feel.
Alan Lestini
this is right up my alley --- phrenology, skull duggery, and all that lot!
Reminds me of my Death & Dying class I took in college...
The hundreds of footnotes were terribly distracting.
Oct 09, 2009 Kat marked it as to-read
Cheryl and I are swapping book lists.
Jul 21, 2010 Madelyne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Depends on the person
Finally! It seems ages ago (by the by it was) that I started reading this. Cranioklepty is far off the beaten path of books I would usually choose to entertain my mind, buy why not try something different I though when I picked it from the batch of Early Reviewers.

The book had a strong beginning and I learned many interesting facts I enjoyed sharing with friends and family. Toward the middle of the book I felt I had no choice, but to find another book to read. It lacked the intrigue the beginnin...more
First things first, despite the fact that this book is about stolen skulls, I greatly enjoyed reading it and absorbing all this morbid information about musical and medical geniuses, told in such humorous and entertaining prose. Despite the vast cast of people whose tales are related intimately, Colin Dickey's voice and unique manner of writing still shines through. I now know more about Joseph Hayden, Joseph Carl Rosenbaum, Sir Thomas Browne, Beethoven, Rokitensky, Mozart and Louis Pierre Grati...more
Mike Caulfield
I might even be being a bit stingy with the stars here. For me, the most fascinating pieces were not about the grave robbing, but about the development of phrenology as a science. Had no idea how big everyone from George Eliot to Wallie Whitman were on it, and was equally surprised that Phrenology version 1.0 was a pretty bold materialist statement -- at its core was the idea that the personality was a result of measurable differences in brain physiology and that brain function was localized, wi...more
Margaret Sankey
With the coming of romanticism and phrenology, 19th century weirdos found a new hobby--collecting the heads of the famous and noteworthy. Previously, cabinets of curiosity contained taxidermied colonial people, or two-headed cows, but devotees of Gull and Goethe now felt compelled to grave-rob Hadyn, Beethoven, Swedenborg, Sir Thomas Browne, Geronimo....and study and display their heads. Dickey examines these phenomena in the context of their times, as well as chronicles the unbelievable conspir...more
I got quite a few chuckles out of this history book, but it also gave an interesting perspective on the changes in the relationship of the human skull to science over the past 300 years.
Sep 20, 2010 Velvetink marked it as to-read
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“There had been no contradiction between a man of science and a man of religion. They provided different means to the same goal: understanding the works of God.” 1 likes
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