Megan Rosenbloom’s first book, Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin published October 20, 2020. View the book trailer.
The paperback is now available as of October 19, 2021 via Picador from: Bookshop, IndieBound, Amazon, and wherever books are sold. E-galleys are available for review purposes on NetGalley or by writing madeline [dot] day [at] picadorusa [dot] com.
For upcoming in-person and online book talks, see the events page.
A fascinating, terrifying look at the rarest books―bound in human skin―and the stories of their creation
There are books out there, some shelved unwittingly next to ordinary texts, that are bound in human skin. Would you know one if you held it in your hand?
In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom, a librarian and a cofounder of the Death Salon, seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind anthropodermic bibliopegy. Dozens of these books still sit on the shelves of the world’s most famous libraries and museums. What are their stories? Dark Archives exhumes their origins and brings to life the doctors, murderers, women, and indigents whose lives are bound together in this rare, scattered, and disquieting collection. It also tells the story of the scientists, curators, and librarians like Rosenbloom – interested in the full complicated histories behind these dark artifacts of nineteenth-century medicine – are developing tests to discover these books and sorting through the ethics of custodianship.
A whip-smart and witty writer, Rosenbloom has crafted a narrative that is equal parts detective work, academic intrigue, history, and medical curiosity. Thrilling, captivating, and macabre in all the right ways, Dark Archives encourages us to take another look at the very serious ways in which the powerful have objectified people over time – perfect for fans of Mary Roach, Lindsey Fitzharris, and the art of collecting.
“Profoundly odd, wholly original, and utterly engrossing! If there were a Pulitzer for the category, ‘Who knew?,’ Ms. Rosenbloom’s Dark Archives would win it hands down.” ― Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile
“Dark Archives is a gorgeous dive into the humanity and inhumanity of the people behind (and on) these strangely captivating books. Propelled by curiosity and bibliophilia, Rosenbloom travels far and wide and deep within, taking us to unimaginable places. This is a masterful work, enlightened and enlivened by Rosenbloom’s scholarship and her involvement with the death positive movement. If there were a word for the perfect pairing of author and subject and the giddy joy that pairing brings to the reader, I’d be using it right now.” ― Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
“An international treasure hunt, fascinating medical history, high level PR nightmare, and heartrending account of the real people whose flesh was turned into curiosities by the medical professionals they trusted.” ― Caitlin Doughty, author of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions About Death
“Megan Rosenbloom is the perfect guide to a dark and sinister world populated by Victorian criminals, bodysnatchers, and dissectors―all of whom contributed to the gruesome art of binding books with human skin. A splendid read for Halloween Eve!” ― Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art
“Part scholar, part journalist, part wide-eyed death enthusiast, Rosenbloom takes readers on her own journey to understand how and why human-skin books came to be . . . She includes no shortage of memorable scientific minutiae and clarifications of misunderstood history along the way . . . The era of consent in medicine―including in organ and cadaver donation―is still in its infancy. Rosenbloom’s book, and the skin-bound books she discusses, compel us to reckon with that arc, and to try to bend it more urgently in an ethical direction.” ― James Hamblin, The New York Times Book Review; New York Times Editors Choice
“Driven by an engine of curiosity, Rosenbloom moves through history at a brisk pace, bookending each chapter with excellent hooks and cliff hangers, all of which makes for propulsive reading . . . A species of reparative writing, Dark Archives excavates the hidden stories stitched into the binding of anthropodermic books and, in doing so, restores some humanity to victims of medical exploitation. Delightful and propulsive, Rosenbloom’s measured balance of bloody thrills with historical fact and ethical nuance makes Dark Archives a titillating Halloween read.” ― Connor Goodwin, NPR
“[Dark Archives] begins as a quest for the fascinating and forbidden: the reader is invited to share the thrill of pursuit, and of the moment when the sinister and legendary provenance of a book is scientifically verified. But as the histories of these books unfold, the focus necessarily shifts from their creators and possessors to the lives of those who supplied the skin.” ― Mike Jay, The New York Review of Books
“The author earns that trust. The result of Rosenbloom’s probing travelogues, lively histories and deep study of book stewardship is an incongruously bright-eyed view of a subject that, in the hands of another scholar, might be either plodding or gruesomely sensationalistic. The true story of how people became books is surprisingly intersectional, touching on gender, race, socioeconomics and the Western medical establishment’s colonialist mindset.” ―Leslie Pariseau, Los Angeles Times
“What begins as an investigation into fascinatingly macabre volumes becomes a reflection on medical ethics, consent and mortality.” ― The Economist
“As Rosenbloom crisscrosses the globe to confirm the purported origins of skin-bound books — a cracking detective story in itself — her journey offers unusual insight into what defines informed consent, what separates homage from exploitation, and how power disparities can breed casual inhumanity.” ― Undark
“Essential for most libraries, especially where books about medical history & material culture circulate well.” ― Library Journal
“This unique and well-researched account shines an intriguing light on a hidden corner of the rare books world.” ― Publisher’s Weekly
“[An] intriguing intersection of history, science, and the macabre… Rosenbloom’s passion for the topic is infused in each page, making for a captivating read.”— ALA Booklist
““Regardless of how wacky or tragic any particular book’s journey has been, Rosenbloom approaches them all with such good humor, solid science, & unerring respect for the dead that Wiredmanages to be life-affirming amidst all the ethical debate & stinky tannery mishaps.” —