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Dark Archives: A Librarian's…

Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin (original 2020; edition 2021)

by Megan Rosenbloom (Author)

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4551551,730 (4.04)8
"A medical librarian presents a fascinating, terrifying look into history's rarest books-- those bound in human skin-- and the stories of their creation and collection"--
Title:Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin
Authors:Megan Rosenbloom (Author)
Info:Picador (2021), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin by Megan Rosenbloom (2020)


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When I was in grad school, a professor dedicated an entire day’s lecture to anthropodermic books. It was a fascinating talk that has always stuck in my mind, so—when I saw this book—I just had to pick up a copy. One should never judge a book by its cover, and—sadly—this book proves that old adage is true. Although the title would have you believe this book is about anthropodermic books, the topic actually gets scant attention at the hands of Megan Rosenbloom, who seems convinced that she is truly the star of the show. There is a lot of “I, I, I…me, me, me…my, my, my” going on in this book and, quite frankly, it’s boring as hell.

Dark Archives has three very distinct personalities. At first, it reads like an undergrad’s C+ term paper with lots of verbose prose that goes on for pages and pages, but actually says next to nothing.

Other times, it reads like an insecure teenager’s desperate plea for attention and validation. Rosenbloom spends so much time pointing out how freakishly disgusting her interests are, she sounds like a spinster aunt showing off for her six-year-old nephew’s cub scout troup, “I study books bound in human skin…isn’t that gross?...don’t I sound cool and edgy?…don’t I? don’t I?... Please, somebody think I’m cool and edgy!... Anybody?... Plleeeeaaase think I’m cool!”

Most of all, though, Dark Archives reads like the most longwinded job application imaginable. Rosenbloom is clearly of the opinion that her current job is not prestigious or high paying enough for someone of her caliber, so she uses this book to unabashedly troll for one that is. The reader is bombarded with a veritable résumé of Rosenbloom’s educational qualifications, job history, professional development, extracurricular activities, and leadership roles. She repeatedly clarifies how “my team” goes about identifying and verifying anthropodermic books around the country. (Are the other members of ‘her’ so-called team even aware that they are actually on a team led by Megan Rosenbloom? My guess is that most of them would say “No!” and laugh at the mere suggestion, but maybe I’m reading too much into Rosenbloom’s pretentious writing style.) In essence, Rosenbloom spends almost the entire book saying, “I wrote the book on anthropodermic books; I am just too glorious; Take note, influential institutions of the world, & hire me for the highfalutin position to which I feel entitled!” All I can say is, “Meh. Not impressed. I’d rather be reading about anthropodermic books.”

At the end of the day, this book is more about Megan Rosenbloom than it is about human bound books; and, unfortunately, she’s just not as interesting as she seems to think she is. ( )
  missterrienation | Sep 18, 2023 |
This book was everything I wanted it to be, and more.

I first heard about Dark Archives on the Morbid Anatomy podcast, and I knew immediately that I had to read it, but it wasn't due out until October (quite appropriate but SO FAR AWAY!) I started following the author, Megan Rosenbloom, on Twitter and discovered that the book was available on NetGalley. I requested it immediately and crossed my fingers.

Until I heard Megan speak on the podcast, I had NO IDEA that books bound in human skin was a thing. How had my macabre sensibilities missed this gem? However, this book is more than just Megan's quest to search out true anthropodermic bibliopegy (fancy words for "books made of human skin"), it's an education and procedural in antique books, it's' a study in medical ethics past and present, and a behind-the-scenes look at the exciting world of a medical librarian! You get to follow Megan around the globe as she hunts down various legendary tomes and testing them to see if they're the real deal. Some turn out to be made out of animal skins, but a handful turn out to be the real McCoy.

Amidst the "treasure" hunt, you receive a brief education on the history of medicine in western world, how far doctors have come from paying grave robbers for bodies to autopsy to now using bodies that have been donated. It's a gruesome truth that is riddled with controversy when you consider how medicine has advanced from the dark ages on the literal backs of the poor, the murdered, and minorities. Collectors and librarians juggle their want and need to conserve history whilst trying to respect the memory of those whose bodies were used to enrich someone's personal library.

Dark Archives is a fascinating read that brings together so many elements to create a well-rounded text that is as enjoyable as it is informative.

Many thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  LiteraryGadd | Jan 16, 2023 |
Wide-ranging, well researched and engagingly written. ( )
  dylkit | Jul 16, 2022 |
Fascinating, poignant, intriguing, and just a little bit creepy. I loved this book and hope there is more to come. ( )
  cmcall | Jun 21, 2022 |
I used to work with a guy who was a colossal nitwit. He would spend the entire workday wandering randomly around the library, talking to whoever happened to be there, injecting himself into conversations, desperately trying to impress all and sundry with his self-professed brilliance. Whatever the topic, he was convinced he knew everything there was to know about it. He would drone on and on for hours, saying absolutely nothing; and, with every sentence that came out of his mouth, it became crystal clear he had no clue what he was talking about. He was convinced he was a genius. He was so arrogant he never noticed the countless eye rolls or snickering he provoked, and he never realized that people went out of their way to avoid him—people would literally run and hide in the stacks to try to get away from him. But he just kept rambling on and on; and the more he talked, the more he revealed himself to be an ignorant bore.

Dark Archives is the book that guy would have written. ( )
  shokei | May 8, 2022 |
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