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Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Geniusby Colin Dickey
Synopses & 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 dramatically with the opening of Haydn's grave in October 1820, Cranioklepty takes us on an extraordinary history of a peculiar kind of obsession. The desire to own the skulls of the famous, for study, for sale, for public (and private) display, seems to be instinctual and irresistible in some people. The rise of phrenology at the beginning of the 19th century only fed that fascination with the belief that genius leaves its mark on the very shape of the head.
"The word 'skullduggery' finds a new meaning in Dickey's well-vetted account of those obsessed with owning the skulls of the highly talented and famous. Fiction and nonfiction writer Dickey (co-editor of Failure! Experiments in Aesthetic and Social Practices) takes the reader back to the plucky grave robbers who stole the craniums of famed composers Haydn and Beethoven, Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, artist Francisco Goya, the English doctor and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne and others to sell, study or put on public display. The skull obsession was triggered by the infamous 'Gall system,' created in the late 18th century by Franz Joseph Gall, who theorized that the bumps and dents of the skull could provide a measure of intelligence. The author not only describes the profitable trade of grave robbing, but the chemical technique of cleaning a skull, the patronage of medical schools and the complex scientific debates about whether the size and shape of skulls and brains tell us anything about human intelligence or personality. Blending science with historical drama, Dickey's book illuminates the mystery and controversy of a bizarre tradition throughout the ages. (Sept. 3)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Dickey spins these stories with a storyteller's grace and a historian's exactitude. Cranioklepty will join those books...that delve into the origins of eccentric intellectual lore, whether madness and lexicography...or inventions and visions by depressives, maniacs, and malcontents." Brooklyn Rail
"Colin Dickey...has served up a fascinating book. Well-researched, clear and concise, this book is full of interesting historical anecdotes." ForeWord Magazine
"Dickey fairly considers what motivated graveyard pilferers; generally, it was a potage of science, commemoration, and profit. Those with a taste for the macabre...will enjoy Dickey's eccentric tales."Booklist
About the Author
Colin Dickey is the co-editor of Failure! Experiments in Aesthetic and Social Practices. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Cabinet, TriQuarterly, and the Santa Monica Review. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he now lives in Los Angeles.
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