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

Farrar. Oct. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780374134709. $26. HEALTH
While the idea of anthropodermic books, or books bound in human skin, may conjure images of serial killers toiling in underground lairs, Rosenbloom (collections strategies librarian, Univ. of California Los Angeles) shows that the truth is both more mundane and more sinister. Her investigation into the past reveals much about the history of medicine and the ways 18th- and 19th-century American and European medical research were inextricably connected to slavery and the prison system, while her investigations into the current state of anthropodermic books involve working with scientists who are able to test minute amounts of material to determine its origin, considering the motives of forgers (money, chiefly), learning about contemporary tanning practices, and considering the pros and cons of keeping human-skin books in one’s collection. This wide-ranging, engagingly written, and unusual book may not satisfy readers looking for gore, but it will fascinate those interested in a new angle from which to consider what it means to be human and what our responsibilities are to other people.
VERDICT Essential for most libraries, especially where books about medical history and material culture circulate well.
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