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Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality
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Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  355 ratings  ·  34 reviews
In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serb ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published July 25th 1990 by Yale University Press (first published 1988)
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The Vampire Book by J. Gordon MeltonVampyres by Christopher FraylingIn Search of Dracula by Raymond T. McNallyVampires, Burial, and Death by Paul BarberThe Vampire in Europe by Montague Summers
Vampire Non-Fiction
4th out of 41 books — 14 voters
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer BradleyBeowulf by UnknownThe Once and Future King by T.H. WhiteAppalachia Mountain Folklore by Micheal Rivers12 Books in 1 by Andrew Lang
35th out of 195 books — 63 voters

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Community Reviews

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Are no sparkly or sexy vampires here; not even any who wear evening dress and travel with coffins of dirt. This nonfiction book explores the very roots of the vampire legend and ties it to the unexpected things that dead bodies can do and how the people of yesterday interpreted those things.

The average corpse does certain things: the face turns pale and waxy, the limbs become rigid, the blood coagulates, and it lays silent and unmoving. But not all corpses follow those rules; depending on how t
Barber presents a rather convincing and interesting theory in this book, arguing that vampire legends and folklore developed as a means to expalin decomposition. The book is worth a read not only for the theory but als because of the amount of translation and sources that Barber looks at. If you are a fan of sexy vampires, you should skip this book.
Owen Spencer
This book provides overwhelming evidence that practices and beliefs associated with death, funerals, burial, the soul, the afterlife, and the undead were strongly influenced by facts and misunderstandings about decomposition processes. This book shows the reader that bodies rot and decay in a variety of different ways, and unless you understand the science of decomposition it is tempting to resort to supernatural explanations for bodies that fail to decompose in the usual or expected way. Hardco ...more
I recently started re-reading this great book as I'm working on an article on Serbian vampires currently myself. While Twilight and other vampire fiction and films currently have once again brought the vampire to the apex of popular culture, this book and its author offer both the history of the vampire in actual (mainly Slavic) folklore and the biological basis for after-death processes which gave rise to vampire myths across many cultures. The body, one must understand, takes some odd turns on ...more
Fantastic book for those interested in vampires, folklore and the general macabre. Author uses a wealth of source material and scientific data about death (and its aftermath) to dissect why people believed what they believed about vampires. Plus, he knows his topic is unusual and isn't afraid of a little humor and anecdotes to highlight and explain what he's writing about. Where else can you read about a chicken volcano and how that relates to burial?
Batgrl (Not Trusting GR With My Reviews/Shelves Now)
It's been ages since I read this and I think it would get another star if the main thing I didn't remember so very, very clearly was the description of the process of decomposition. Specifically the "liquifaction of the eyeballs." So three stars because I am so annoyingly squeamish. But the book was extremely well sourced and interesting, so I'd definitely recommend it.


No matter your opinion of Twilight, you have to give Stephenie Meyer her due. It's no small feat for a housewife without any prior writing experience to pen a title that sells millions upon millions of copies. Unfortunately for Ms. Meyer, I suspect that history will remember her not for spawning a pop culture phenomenon but for creating a horror monster that left fans and detractors alike scratching their heads -- the sparkling vampire. A decidedly
Orrin Grey
Barber takes a novel (to me, anyway) approach to the folklore of the vampire. Rather than starting with the fictional tropes of vampirism and working backward to see how we reached them from folklore, as most books I've read on the subject have done, he instead starts from folklore and works backward to see how those beliefs were shaped in the first place. His basic thesis is that folklore of vampires (and other revenants, really) stem largely from misunderstandings (or a lack of understanding) ...more
Rita Dinis
Well, I bought this book without really knowing what I was doing. There are lots of books that try to explain the phenomenon and after expending some time searching and reading reviews, I ended up buying this one. And I gotta tell you, it was worth it. If you're a fantasy/fiction reader like me and if you like vampire stories, you'll certainly enjoy reading this book. It's the kind of book to read slowly, ideal for those moments when you don't want to do anything else and want to relax a bit. Th ...more
In Vampires, Burial and Death Paul Barber sets out to find the truth behind vampire folklore. He demonstrates that most of the stories about vampires in folklore ultimately derive from a lack of understanding of the processes that bodies undergo after death. Natural processes were misinterpreted a evidence that a body was not decomposing and that therefore the dead person had in some degree returned to life or at least a kind of half life. He provides some fascinating anecdotes about burial prac ...more
Amanda Brenchley
Fascinating and unexpected; wholly original research; entirely free of fantasy but sympathetic to the human capacity for creating it. Nice clear prose, without padding. (This edition has a new preface.) I give it five stars because, apart from any other consideration, there is no book I know of that is even remotely like this. It is path-breaking and stands by itself.

Barber's book is a rational investigation into the claims made by Eastern European folklore -- its witnesses and spectators -- who
Why is the idea of vampires so pervasive in world cultures? Where did the idea of blood-sucking ghouls come from? This book presents a very convincing theory in a little under 200 pages. The author starts by differentiating vampires in fiction (supposed to be intriguing) and from the vampires of folklore. Since fictional vampires are pretty much by definition made up, the author concentrates on vampire folklore - what people used to believe about vampires. The upshot? Vampires are the result of ...more
A must for any anthropologist / folklorist or anyone who's ever read an Ann Rice novel (and especially so for Twilight fans - this might explain why every other vampire fan is down on their s---.)

Barber does a wonderful job of not only successfully describing the differences between "popular" vampires and "folkloric" vampires - but then goes on to describe the forensics involved as to how and why these legends came about, including soil quality, animal behavior, as well as local superstition.

Sharon Blackstone
I read this book in the 9th grade. Out of, what I believed at the time to be, absolute necessity! It was possibly my first book really touching on these topics, philosophically, and historically. I'd have to say this was my "gateway" book ;). The one that started it all!
Resistance is Futile
In Vampires, Burial, and Death, Barber differentiates between vampires of folklore and those of popular fiction (with a very strong emphasis on those of folklore). He proposes that the folklore of vampires arose due to people’s fear of dead bodies. He rigorously notes the common traits of folklore vampires (blood at the mouth, bloating, groaning when staked, red face, etc.) and points out that all of these things could occur naturally in a decaying body. The content of this book is very interest ...more
This is a very well-researched look into the folklore of vampires (almost exclusively European). Barber explores the differences between common fiction tropes about vampires and the folklore surrounding them from cultures/ times where people believe in their existence. He also explores reasons why certain beliefs existed including the characteristics of dead bodies that were thought to signify vampirism (and which were fairly common in bodies). The writing is very scholarly - this reads like a r ...more
Starts out trying to understand why lots of cultures believe in vampires. Eventually the author realized that belief in vampires is closely correlated with ignorance of what happens to dead bodies. So he studies -- in icky detail -- what actually happens when bodies decompose. Pretty danged fascinating; makes me want to read more about decomposition, honestly. Is highly repetitive, though; worth skimming.
Very cool to see the original accounts given by sundry sources from the time period where peasants and other small townspeople actually did believe in vampires! It is always good to see the reality behind a popular legend, especially when digger deeper into it gives you an insight into the folkloric roots of the horrors of human imagination.
I read this book many years ago and can still remember the breadth of information I learned from it. It is a serious look at the origins of vampire legends. It portrays a sharp contrast between contemporary fiction and historical folklore and shows that our modern notions of vampire archetypes are just that.. modern.
Lots of great information, stories, etc., but unfortunately reads like a dissertation. Enjoyed it greatly for the first few chapters, but then it began to feel like each new topic introduced was just a reiteration of every other chapter before it. Good resource, I think, but not a great read.
Gevera Bert
This book examines the folklore (not fiction) of vampires and compares it to what actually happens to a body after death, explaining that the widespread ideas behind living corpses are all based on the processes of decay. Not very gory but very interesting; all laid out in a very logical way.
I had to read this book for my English Literature class on "The Undead." In the beginning, I could have cared less about this book, but after reading it thoroughly, I learned a lot and enjoyed the information from the book. Very neat to learn about the folklore vampire.
By far the most erudite book on the subject. Barber skimps on culture here, focusing on the (admittedly fascinating) forensic medicine that led societies to hunt the undead in their midst. All analytical thought on vampires begins here; an indispensible text.
Jul 03, 2007 Kylos rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: vudlovaks and strigoi
forget the fiction... read the historical accounts of why people believed what they believed and how they could think up the myths that we now use for our novels, card games and spooking the children.
Quite a fascinating look at the various vampire related myths across the world, particular in regards to burial, folklore and how reality kind of goes 'uh huh' at them - very well researched and written.
Lena Tumasyan
This was an AWESOME book about how Vampire folklore arises from mistakes in death rituals and just the lack of knowledge of what happens to a body when someone dies.
it's been at least 5 years since I read this book as a source for a literature term paper on vampires (oh those were the days), but I think I remember liking it.
Sarah Rodriguez
Read for an anthropology class. Very interesting. Easy to follow. Overall a cool thing to study around this time of year!
I read this as part of an anthropology class back in jc. It makes some sense of the vampire myth from a medical perspective.
Teacher From Hell
I learned the probable scientific and medical explanation behind the myth of the vampire. Very interesting.
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