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Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin

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4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,407 ratings  ·  292 reviews
On bookshelves around the world, surrounded by ordinary books bound in paper and leather, rest other volumes of a distinctly strange and grisly sort: those bound in human skin. Would you know one if you held it in your hand?

In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind anthropodermic bibliopegy--the practice of binding books in this
...more
Hardcover, 275 pages
Published October 20th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Jessica Vacek Hello, I work at said museum and I can assure you, these books are real! I've held them myself. The books bound in human skin I know of however, are u…moreHello, I work at said museum and I can assure you, these books are real! I've held them myself. The books bound in human skin I know of however, are usually an assortment of medical book. Sometimes they are about the disease the person whose skin it is perished from. Excited to read this! (less)

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Average rating 4.11  · 
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 ·  1,407 ratings  ·  292 reviews


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Jenny Lawson
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Finished it in one day and immediately picked it for my Fantastic Strangelings book club. SO GOOD.
Claudia
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books you read out of morbid curiosity, because that was the reason for selecting it. And although it’s quite gruesome in its details, it was an engrossing one.

You would think that only a murderer or another deranged person would bound a book in human skin. Turned out quite the opposite:

(view spoiler)
...more
Gerhard
Jan 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In her Author’s Note, Megan Rosenbloom notes that “… real human skin books do not usually immediately announce themselves with a ghoulish appearance. They do not look much different from any other antiquarian book you would find on the shelf. It’s likely some are quietly resting in library stacks, hiding in plain sight. Even if you were holding one right now, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell.”

Having said that, there are only about 50 human skin books in the world, as verified and authentica
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Madison
Dec 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
If I had to pick only one word to describe this book, that word would be "defensive."
Each of the disjointed, overly precious chapters get about 80% of the way toward making a point when Rosebloom halts in her tracks to say, basically, "but regardless of all that, I think human skin books are neat!" She makes some vague gestures toward acknowledging the power imbalances that result in people binding their books in the skin of other people before refusing to call the process racist or sexist or vi
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Lady H
Apr 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
In one Supernatural plot arc, Sam and Dean Winchester are on the hunt for a tome called The Book of the Damned. Discovered by Charlie Bradbury in a monastery in Spain, it is a 700 year old dark magic book penned by a nun who, after having "visions of darkness," locked herself away and emerged decades later with the book, having written it all on slices of her own skin, using her own blood.

That's the sort of thing I thought Dark Archives was gonna get into, but sadly, the reality of human skin bo
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madmadmaddy
Nov 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: witchy, my-library
I really, really wanted to love this book. I pre-ordered it and everything! Unfortunately, Dark Archives suffers from the same tendency to center the (white, able, thin, instagram-approved) self in discussions about uncomfortable topics like systemic racism and misogyny that I see in my and the author's profession, academic librarianship.

I work at an institution that is home to four books bound in human skin. [this review does not reflect the views of or is endorsed by my employer] I've handled
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Chelsea Elwood
Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It’s everything I want from nonfiction: weirdly specific topic, good writing, lots of history and interactions with various experts, fascinating and a bit macabre. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who is extremely squeamish, but the macabre topic is very tactically handled and buttressed by histories and issues of medical ethics and histories.
Katie Long
Dec 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Gosh, I loved this. Books bound in human skin had long been a macabre claim in rare book collections, but their existence couldn’t be definitively confirmed until 2014. Rosenbloom explores the science behind confirming these pieces and the historical context of the creation of several of them. Why would anyone create something so gruesome? Or lie about having done so? Why were these books chosen for anthropodermic binding? The reasons are often surprising and often not (ahem, detached white male ...more
Andrew
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin, by Megan Rosenbloom, is a well titled book, as it is about the science and history of books bound in human skin. This book covers how the books are tested, the frequency of a successful test (60% are confirmed real, but about 40% are fake), issues of consent, book collection eccentricities, and rumours. Some interesting information abounds - the largest number of books bound in human skin seem t ...more
Krystelle Zuanic
Jul 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
When the passion of an author in a book simply glows through the pages, you know you're onto a damn good thing. This book, though the subject material is morbid at best, is absolutely fascinating, and provides the reader with an incredible insight into the world of anthropodermic books and the people who make them (in all senses of the word).

The book follows the journey of the author through her deep dive into the world of human skin bound books, and the stories that follow on from said books.
...more
Sam Sigelakis-Minski
RTC. I loved all of the parts of this book- the doctors, the history, and Rosenbloom's death positive outlook, but I do feel that it was a little disjointed organizationally.

Update: Full review at Sam's Beach Reads.

What I Loved:

What I loved most, and what was the overarching theme of Dark Archives, was the diverse historical context. Rosenbloom has spent her career studying and looking for anthropodermic books, and her body of research shows. We get to learn about the French Revolution,
...more
Dylan
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A look at human leather bound books and the people involved.

3.5 rounded up.

Not for the faint of heart!

Synopsis: Dark Archives is a non-fiction book that takes a look at the history of human leather bound books with the main intent of bringing to light the stories of the people who made the books (those that bound them as well as those who were used to bind them). There's also a fairly large emphasis on medical history as many of the people who had human leather bound books made were doctors in
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Alix
Dec 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Dark Archives is a unique read that delves into the history of binding books in human skin, otherwise known as anthropodermic bibliopegy. I was expecting some real macabre tale about why books were bound in human skin, but in reality about 18 known books have been bound in human skin and were often done so by doctor bibliophiles. These 19th century doctors would bound their most prized books in human skin. Logically, it makes sense that doctors would be the ones to have these books in their poss ...more
Alex Sarll
A book about books bound in human skin. You probably have some idea already whether that's for you, and Rosenbloom quite understands that the Anthropodermic Book Project of which she's part is never likely to be a mainstream interest – "My research trips tend to resemble the plot of the first twenty minutes of a horror movie – a woman alone, naively plunging into some mystery she has no business investigating, driven by a vague curiosity and a disdain for common sense." She's that commendable so ...more
Lukas Vermeer
Who knew a book about books bound in human skin could be so boring!? I didn’t and was unpleasantly surprised by this lengthy advertorial for Peptide Mass Fingerprint testing and the Anthropodermic Book Project.
Jessica
Jan 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
As it stands, there are around 50 alleged anthropodermic books in the world and many more are speculated over. People heavily debate the ethics of their existence: some argue they should be protected and studied; others believe they should be interred to give the person who - most likely - did not give their consent a proper burial.

Megan Rosenbloom, a medical librarian, death positive, and fascinated by anthropodermic bibliopegy, shows both sides of this dispute and she takes us through the spo
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Sara
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfic
An incredibly fascinating and delightfully morbid book written by a librarian who studies the history of books bound with human skin. One of the most interesting reads of the year. It touches the historical, moral and racial implications of binding books in human skin and I absolutely loved it. Highly recommend for anyone looking for something different to read, someone who loves to learn, librarians and those interested in the history of the book.
Isaiah
Dec 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
To read a full review check it out here.

Such a well written history. I can't imagine a better written or better author for this.
...more
Ashley
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, fun
What a fun(?) romp through the more macabre aspects of the history of medicine! Rosenbloom does a remarkable job using the creepy to expand out into much larger stories about medicine, questions about ethics, and discussions about the nature of medical education. Not a lot new here for someone already familiar with the history of medicine but am excellent primer for someone curious about the field.
Amber
Oct 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love a good science nonfiction that goes hand-in-hand with my history loving soul, add in books, and this near-perfect blend of the three. This is absolutely captivating, although it could have been longer, but probably not for those without the morbid curiosity like myself.

I received an ecopy of this book via Netgalley; however, my opinions are my own
Caidyn (he/him/his)
2.5

I don't know what it was with this book, but it wasn't a hit for me. I found it a bit dull and I never got into the stories, even though these things are usually up my alley. Weird historical facts about books bound in human skin? Sign me up? But, I never was able to sink into it. I felt at arms length the whole time, although there were occasions where I found myself more interested. So, sadly, the book was a miss for me. Hopefully, some day, I'll feel the pull to try it again and find it mo
...more
Malissa
Oct 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
That was fun.
Samantha
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
This would have made a great long form article.

It’s a touch short on material for an entire book, though the author does an admirable job of filling in around the nuts and bolts of books made of human skin with interesting tidbits about book binding, book collections, and the legalities and ethics of the ultimate fate of human remains.

The technical aspects of binding a book in human skin were less enthralling than I expected, as a bit of a chemistry nerd. Better was the *why* of it all. Or perh
...more
Ellie-Simone
Dec 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I would like to preface this review indicating that this particular area of academic intrigue greatly interested me from the start. I had already pre-ordered this new research treatise prior to being approved for an advanced reading copy by the publishers. I write this review as an arc reviewer in exchange for an honest review, but also as a genuine biblio research nerd who now owns this book as a hardcover copy, complete with highlights and sticky-noted pages. Ms. Rosenbloom, this was a wonderf ...more
Peacegal
Nov 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fans of authors Mary Roach and Caitlyn Doughty won’t want to miss this unique survey of a literally skin-crawling subject matter. The existence of books bound in human skin have long been rumored throughout many cultures and time periods, but is this an especially gruesome legend or do such items actually exist? Armed with an intense fascination with historical texts and access to a forensics testing lab, Megan Rosenbloom takes readers on a memorable journey to find out.

Spoiler alert: anthropod
...more
Katie
Nov 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
In ‘Dark Archives’, author Megan Rosenbloom takes readers on a journey into the sordid and often misunderstood world of anthropodermic bibliopegy – the practice of binding books in human skin. As an art history teacher and manuscript nerd who is most interested in the history of the book, I found ‘Dark Archives’ to be a deeply fascinating read. Rosenbloom speaks with authority as the president of the Southern California Society for the History of Medicine and medical librarian at the Norris Medi ...more
The Starry Library
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
'Dark Archives' takes a peek under the layers of the phenomenon of human skin books. What spawned the author to bind a book in skin? Who were the victims? What are the provenance of these books? Who were the binders? What about the collectors who go to great lengths to procure them?

This book attempts to answer these questions, but alas, as with any obscure topic, ethical issues abound. Should they be destroyed or should they be kept away from the public?

Megan Rosenbloom, a specialist in Anthrop
...more
Rachel Pollock
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It gives me pause to admit that I absolutely loved this book written by a librarian whose specialty is the scientific analysis of archival books purportedly bound in human skin.

I initially wanted to read it out of morbid curiousity, but I really got sucked into all her various digressions about various related topics--historical suppression of midwives' expertise by male doctors, a brief trend for binding the trial records of hanged criminals in their own skin, the bodysnatchers of Edinburgh (Bu
...more
Emily Stensloff
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, non-fiction
4.5 stars. this book may not be exactly what you're expecting. while it is centered on the stories of anthropodermic books, it's deeper than that. i would go on to say the book is much more a study that uses human skin books to examine and analyze the history of ethics, consent, and medical misuse/abuse of power. and i don't mean that in a bad way! i was fascinated with the stories of all the books that Rosenbloom encountered (and i'm looking forward to following the data as more is discovered). ...more
Kristin
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
3.5 - an interesting discussion of the body, consent, and views of personhood, especially in the medical field. I have actually heard of human skin books before and never thought that deeply about them, so this brought me to a new level. However, it never quite went anywhere. Something was always missing for me. Maybe it’s because they author tries so hard to be fair that she will lay out the facts and then the two sides of the arguments and leave it at that - fantastic practice for research, sl ...more
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Fantastic Strange...: Discussion on Dark Archives by Megan Rosenbloom 5 15 Feb 12, 2021 07:44AM  

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Megan Curran Rosenbloom is a medical librarian at the Norris Medical Library of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Megan has a keen interest in the history of medicine and rare books. She is President of the Southern California Society for the History of Medicine and co-founder and director of Death Salon, the event arm of The Order of the Good Death, and a leader in the Death P ...more

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According to some historians, the month of April is actually named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, by way of the Romans....
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“When thinking about anthropodermic books, we can't simply fault the doctors of the past for engaging in behavior that was tacitly or explicitly sanctioned by the laws and mores of their time and place in history; nor can we expect them to retroactively adhere to the deeply important beliefs we now have about informed consent. What we can do, and have a moral obligation to do, is examine the institutions in which these injustices were able to proceed, learn from their mistakes, and critically view the pernicious ways these mindsets might persist in our current society and fight to eradicate them.” 1 likes
“No wonder the public persists in connecting the idea of human skin books with Nazis. It's easier to believe that objects of human skin are made by monsters like Nazis and serial killers, and not the well respected doctors the likes of whom parents want their children to become someday.” 0 likes
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