Megan Rosenbloom. Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020. 288p. Cloth, $26.00 (ISBN: 978-0-374-13470-9).

Diane Dias De Fazio

Abstract

Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin begins with a flashback, transporting readers to the exhibit halls of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, legendary home of historical objects of medical oddity, scandal, and intrigue. It was here, author Megan Rosenbloom recalls, that she first encountered books donated by Dr. Joseph Leidy and Dr. John Stockton Hough, visually nondescript yet captivating, because their covers were purportedly made using human epidermis. In 2015, after scientists Dr. Richard Hark and Dr. Daniel Kirby sampled and tested tiny bits of Leidy’s and Hough’s books, the Museum announced they had incontrovertible proof: the bookbindings were anthropodermic—bound in human skin. Rosenbloom, a self-declared “death-positive” journalist and librarian, joined forces with Hark, Kirby, and Mütter Museum Curator Anna Dhody that same year to form the Anthropodermic Book Project (ABP), and their collective bibliographic quest drives the narrative of Dark Archives.

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