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Engrossing Books About Human Body Parts for People with Macabre Fascinations

For the morbidly curious...

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  • Photo Credit: Featured photo: Joyce Hankins / Unsplash

While it may be the dog days of August, autumn is just around the corner. That means the spooky season is coming. While there are many fictional horror and haunting books to choose from, you might want to consider some non-fiction books that will give you more than goosebumps.

The Lineup has gathered a list of ten books about the history of body parts, from severed heads to amputations. This is the history you most likely didn’t learn in school.


Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found

By Frances Larson

Yes, it’s a history of severed heads. In this broad-ranging work, Larson covers the many “uses” of severed heads in history, from trophy heads, shrunken heads, and decapitated heads, to grisly souvenirs in the 20th century and even heads donated to science in the present day. Larson does a great job of dispelling myths and hearsay about the human head. 


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

By Megan Rosenbloom

Across the U.S. and Europe, there are rumors that libraries and other cultural institutions contain books made from human flesh. Rosenbloom sets out to investigate alleged books bound in human flesh. She is part of the Anthropodermic Book Project, which conducts scientific testing on suspected human-flesh books. Rosenbloom dives into the history of confirmed human-flesh books to find out how they came to be. It’s a story about medical ethics and abuse as some people gave their consent for their future remains, while others did not. 


A History of the World Through Body Parts: The Stories Behind the Organs, Appendages, Digits, and the Like Attached to (or Detached from) Famous Bodies

By Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras

For folks who want a more comprehensive view of history and the body, the Petras have put together this text that explores body parts through history, starting from the Paleolithic times to the 1990s. The book brings together disparate parts of world history from the Tudor court with Anne Boleyn’s Heart, colonial America with George Washington’s teeth to astronaut Alan Shephard’s bladder.


Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

By Mary Roach

With a list like this, we would be remiss not to include a book by Mary Roach. While some folks may be familiar with Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, it seemed appropriate to include her book about the world of the digestive system from mouth, stomach, and bowels instead. Roach tries to get to the bottom of how the system works and answer those questions we may be too anxious to ask from passing gas to differences in digestive tracks.


Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind

By Sue Black

Forensic anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black explores the way that bones can tell stories of the humans who had them, from what they ate to how they died. It’s also a story about how experts made judgments before all the modern technology and tools that we have. Part history, part memoir of her own work, the book will satisfy the morbid.


Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Mysterious, Miraculous World of Blood

By Rose George

For people who want to deepen their knowledge of blood, this book is for you. George brings a microscope to blood, splitting into nine chapters,  covering everything from hemophilia to blood transfusions to leeches. The book reveals the way that blood is full of contradictions; something that all humans have but can be derided, and hidden like menstruation. She explores taboos, folk tales, superstitions, and more wrapped up in this life-giving liquid.


Butts: A Backstory

By Heather Radke

We’ve covered heads, blood, and human skin, now we’ve got a book dedicated to the buttocks. Radke takes an all-encompassing view of this body part, from its role in music and exercise to evolutionary biology about how these rotund body parts evolved. It even explores the cult of celebrity and its love/hate relationship with the derriere. 


Spare Parts: The Story of Medicine Through the History of Transplant Surgery

By Paul Craddock

It’s a true leap of human thought—take one body part from another human being and put it in another. But it’s something that humans have been doing since Ancient Egyptian times, and even longer. It’s a story about how the practice evolved and the wild ways that people have replaced body parts, whether they were lost in war, a duel, disease, or otherwise. Craddock also looks at how religion and philosophy dealt with these surgeries. 


The Left-Armed Corps Writings by Amputee Civil War Veterans

By Edited by Allison Johnson

We’ve all heard about the brutality of Civil War medicine where the solution to most ailments was amputation. Usually without any painkillers. Johnson writes about this phenomenon of formerly right-handed soldiers who participated in left-handed penmanship contests in 1865 and 1866. She brings together the writing of left-handed veterans about their lives, before and after those pivotal battles. 


Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs

By Paul Koudounaris

Last but not least, this book explores the afterlives of saints, who were uncovered from their Roman catacombs and brought to Catholic churches in Germany as holy relics as a reaction to the Reformation. The book explores how people thought these bones were from early Christian martyrs and were dressed up with jewelry, clothing, and more as well as arranged in artistic ways in their new resting place. Koudounaris explores how people thought about these skeletons, whether they were worshiped or a means to riches. 

Featured photo: Joyce Hankins / Unsplash