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Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  171 Ratings  ·  28 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
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Unbridled Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Hannah Greendale
Cranioklepty explores the once-popular act of stealing skulls and the birth of cranioscopy, invented by Franz Joseph Gall and later referred to as phrenology. Gall believed that by reading the bumps and indentations on the skull, one could interpret the workings of the brain.

In many ways [phrenology] was a new science for a new time - it boldly claimed to lay bare centuries-old mysteries through a cursory touch of the scalp, making visible what had long been hidden.

The rising popularity of phr
Nicola Mansfield
Jul 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jun 10, 2010 rated it liked it
nothing like a little morbid summer reading. quick read, lots of fun little tidbits, but overall had a bit of a disorganized feel.
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
Oct 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 12, 2010 rated it liked it
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!
Feb 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 thought 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 beginni
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Cheryl Klein
Sep 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable book full of great grim anecdotes (I think the tale of Haydn's head and its idealistic thieves is my favorite), though the description misses a step: the book also serves as sort of a history of phrenology, which was the inspiration behind these 19th-century graverobbings. I hadn't realized phrenology had laid down such deep-seated and still-believed racist notions, which was a more disturbing side to the book than the actual graverobbings.
Oct 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: microhistory
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.
Elizabeth Judd Taylor
A very interesting, and yes, slightly morbid, book. It's not just about grave robbing (and specifically skull robbing)--it's also the story of some rather dubious schools of "science" that were popular in the 19th century (and which have sadly left a legacy that lasts into the present time).
Feb 17, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, science
The hundreds of footnotes were terribly distracting.
Alan Lestini
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
this is right up my alley --- phrenology, skull duggery, and all that lot!
Reminds me of my Death & Dying class I took in college...
Oct 09, 2009 marked it as to-read
Cheryl and I are swapping book lists.
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Šo grāmatu iepirku, jo cilvēki atsaucēs nebija skopojušies ar labiem vārdiem. Domāju, cilvēki jau zina, ko runā, un grāmatu nopirku. Galu galā kapu izlaupīšanas tēma mani vienmēr ir interesējusi. Šajā grāmatā cerēju atrast daudzus gadījumus iz dzīves, iespējams, pat ar vaininieku motivācijas analīzi (ķirurgiem pētniecībai, vienkārša kapu aplaupīšana, dīvainas sektas utml.) plašā ģeogrāfijā. Realitāte bija nedaudz savādāka.

Grāmata ir veltīta pāris galvaskausiem frenoloģijas kontekstā. Sākums ir v
Dec 26, 2016 rated it liked it
You know that Mario Party minigame where you all have bags on your back, and you run around the arena stealing coins from the other players' bags until the clock runs out?

That's this book. The arena is Europe, the other players are white scientists with a deep and misplaced faith in phrenology, the coins are the skulls of dead writers and composers, and the clock is the 1800s.

This book was dryish due to the narrowness of its subject matter, but as far as demonstrating the lengths scientists wil
Mike Caulfield
Aug 18, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Aug 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Annette Boehm
Feb 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Monika Sylvestre
Aug 25, 2016 rated it liked it
I thought that this book was interesting but under delivered what it promised. There was plenty of historical information and a great deal of research that went into this, but I think that's what it was more than anything - a research project. You will learn a lot about the history of some of your favorite classical musicians. There were long tellings about specific stories that didn't really pertain to the subject of the book, which overall made me long for a book that actually focuses on grave ...more
Bobby  Title
Dec 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
I'm sure it wasn't the book; rather, it was me. I found the first quarter of the book was very interesting and in some cases hysterically funny. The second quarter had me bogged down in phrenology, of which I really wasn't interested in something that has always been such a sham. As I started into the third quarter, I told myself that I really hadn't read this material before, even though it felt like a rehash of the people, the actions, the skulls, et al. I finally gave up when my interest lagg ...more
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've somehow read quite a few books about severed heads and rogue skulls, so this book didn't have any "new" information for me. However, it was quite a fun read.
Jun 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Tedious and overly-scientific reading. But very interesting. In places.
Sep 20, 2010 marked it as to-read
epub version
Jun 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
rated it it was amazing
Apr 15, 2011
rated it it was amazing
Jan 06, 2011
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“When it came to the definition of genius, the ultimate measure could never really be the skull - the measure was always the writing, the music, the art itself.” 6 likes
“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.” 3 likes
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