Summary: What do Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart all have in common besides being great composers? For one thing, they all had their skulls, or at least part of their skulls, stolen from their graves. Cranioklepty relates the intriguing history of Phrenology and the attempts made by phrenologists to validate their beliefs. According to Webster, phrenology is “the study of the conformation of the skull based on the belief that it indicates mental faculties and character traits.” It was developed in 1796 by Franz Gall and was very popular through the 1800’s. There were famous supporters of phrenology, including Walt Whitman who made references to it in some of his writings. There were famous skeptics as well. Mark Twain was openly critical when writing about the skull readings he received. Phrenologists were careful to “not to predict genius from the shape of the skulls but instead to confirm the already established genius in the heads before them.”
Skulls of prisoners and insane asylum patients were easy to acquire, but phrenologists were desperate to study the skulls of famous citizens, especially anyone with creative or intellectual genius. Since no one was offering to donate their skulls to this strange science, practitioners had to resort to grave robbing. The collecting of skulls became a hobby for some, and an obsession for others. Elaborate glass cases were designed to display the skulls in homes and offices. What we think of as morbid today, was thought of very differently in the 19th century. Keeping relics of someone you knew or admired was considered an honor. One collector, Joseph Hyrtl, donated his collection which is now housed in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum. If you are a fan of the macabre, you should read Cranioklepty. If you are ever in Philadelphia, you should visit the Mutter Museum.
Who will like this book? Fans of the bizarre and slighly morbid.
Author: Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papademitriou
Publisher: Bloomsbury, September 2009
Summary: Bertrand Russell, mathematician, philosopher, pacifist and lightning rod, was one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. This ambitious graphic biography focuses equally on his turbulent personal life and his groundbreaking work in the area of mathematical logic. We follow Russell as he discovers a paradox and works (and reworks) his theories. He teams with and is opposed by heavyweights of early twentieth-century philosophy, including Wittgenstein and Godel, all the while searching for truth and remaining haunted by the madness he believes is constantly circling him.
Bertrand Russell affected – and was affected by – some of the most dramatic personalities and events of the twentieth century. While a graphic novel about math and philosophy might not seem like the most enticing subject, in the hands of these gifted writers and illustrators, Russell’s story comes to life in surprising and compelling ways.
Who will like this book?: People interested in the history of science, technology and math.
If you like this, try this: For another unique take on philosophy, try The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley. Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities by Ian Stewart. If you are as clueless about math and science as I am, check out 100 Most Important Science Ideas by Mark Henderson.
Summary: This classic novel brings to life Henry V, the victor of Agincourt. From the loss of his mother as a boy to generational based conflicts with his father, Henry IV, and sibling rivalry with his brother, Tom, the young Harry grows to maturity. All hold their breath to see what kind of king he will make and get their true measure of Harry’s worth when he and the English, with their back to the walls, face the French at Agincourt. But more than his wars with France, will Harry ever succeed in winning his true love, Princess Katherine of France?
Who will like this book?:Harry of Monmouth is recommended for those who like their medieval kings in a heroic mode.
If you like this, try this: Good King Harry by Denise Giardina, Fortune Made His Sword by Martha Rofheart, and Henry V by William Shakespeare.
Recommended by: Mona, Reference Associate and Library Lecturer
Summary: Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary Tudor, is probably the most tragic victim of the Tudor dynasty, ending her life on the scaffold at the age of seventeen. Dr. Eric Ives, in this scholarly and page-turning account of the coup that brought Lady Jane Grey to the throne for a brief reign of nine days, provides the who, what, where, and why of a coup that on paper should have had every chance of succeeding but which ultimately failed. Refusing to rely on long accepted accounts of Lady Jane’s story, Dr. Ives offers a reassessment of this episode in Tudor history to the extent that the reader realizes “Jane, we hardly knew ye.”
Who will like this book?: Those who want to know the true story behind Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor. For if any traitor was innocent, that traitor was surely Lady Jane Grey.
If you like this, try this:The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir; Lady Jane Grey and the House of Suffolk by Alison Plowden; and look out for The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda De Lisle.
Recommended by: Mona, Reference Associate and Library Lecturer
Title: The Secret Life of Louis XIV: Francoise d’Aubigne, Madame de Maintenon
Author: Veronica Buckley
Summary: Francoise d’Aubigne was born in a French prison, the youngest child of a minor, rebellious noble. She died over 80 years later as the widow of the King of France. Though her marriage to Louis XIV could never be formally acknowledged due to an extraordinary difference in social rank, Francoise had a profound influence on the Sun King, and reigned as an uncrowned queen during the most glorious era in French history.
This very readable biography immerses the reader in 17th century France, an era of absolute royal power, intense religious conflict and very limited opportunities for women. Author Buckley does a masterful job illuminating the lives of the royal ladies of Versailles and the salons of Paris. That d’Aubigne managed to rise from her humble beginnings to the pinnacle of power is incredible – and that she did so by remaining steadfast, loyal and humble in the dangerous court of the king seems almost miraculous.
Who will like this book?: Readers interested in royal biography and women’s history.
If you like this, try this:Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser. A book about another of Louis’ paramours, Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland. A terrific historical fiction on Marie Antoinette, Abundanceby Sena Jeter Naslund
Summary: This is a sweeping historical romance set in the Niagara Falls area of Canada during the early 20th century. Bess Heath has just finished her junior year at an exclusive private school when she discovers that life at home has changed dramatically. Her father has lost his job and has been drinking the days away, her mother is working as a seamstress to keep food on the table, and Bess’ older sister, Isabel, is suffering from depression as a result of her broken engagement. As Bess tries to keep Isabel from wasting away and her family from falling apart, she falls in love with Tom Cole. Tom is the grandson of the famous river man and local legend Fergus Cole. Bess’ parents, however, do not approve of Tom and force the pair into a clandestine relationship.
The Day the Falls Stood Still gives the reader a glimpse of the beauty and history of Niagara Falls during a period when, for a few opportunistic men, respect for the falls was lost and the race to harness its energy begun. This is a captivating story with wonderful characters in a beautiful setting. You may even find yourself wanting to take a trip up north to experience the majesty of the falls in person.
Who will like this book? Fans of historical fiction, romance, or if you want a light, quick read.
Title: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride
Author: Daniel James Brown
Publisher: William Morrow, April 2009
Summary: Upon hearing the words “Donner Party,” it’s likely that most people remember the most sordid and sensational details of this tragedy. This new account of the Donner party tries to bring the reader past the taboo subject of cannibalism that has been associated with this ill-fated journey for so long. Yes, the facts remain the same, but our interpretation and understanding will be changed by reading this book. The author has gone to great lengths to shine a new light on the emigrants and their reasons for making certain decisions. He focuses his attention on one member of the party, Sarah Graves Fosdick, recently married and traveling with her family and new husband.
Using our current knowledge of the physical and psychological effects of trauma, Daniel Brown has set out to answer many of the questions surrounding the Donner Party tragedy. For example, why did the single men in the group fare so much worse than people traveling with their families? Why did the emigrants suffer the effects of starvation so quickly? In our recent past we have seen protesters on hunger strikes that lasted weeks longer without food than did Sarah and her companions. What psychological effects did the survivors suffer as a result of being on the brink of death for so long? Brown helps us to understand why certain choices were made and the impact these choices had on everyone involved. Imagine being on a camping trip without a tent, lantern, flashlight, stove, bug repellent, sleeping bag, toiletries, or any other amenity. Imagine you cannot bathe, brush your teeth, or wash you clothes and bedding for several months. Now imagine you are surrounded by mountains and several feet of snow and are surviving on leather shoe straps and boiled bones as your only source of food. It’s unfathomable to me. It’s no surprise to find that the Donner party’s fate was sealed by a man so greedy he was willing to divert these poor people from their original trail to Oregon to an uncharted (unbeknownst to them) path across a treacherous mountain range to his fledgling town in California. This is not a dry historical account but a moving and informative tale about brave Americans and their search for a better life.
Who will like this book?: Readers who like American history and adventure stories.
Summary: On April 20, 1999, two boys entered their high school and proceeded to unleash the most unforgettable school shooting of the modern era. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were troubled outcasts in black trench coats, picked on by jocks and preps, who, after years of listening to angry music and playing violent video games, finally snapped.
Or were they? Actually, none of these accepted facts about the young killers are true. In this absorbing book, a reporter who was on the scene that day and followed the story long after the tragedy of school shootings became seemingly commonplace, dispels the myths behind the shooting, its perpetrators, and even its victims. Everyone knows what you mean when you say ‘Columbine,’ but not one of us has ever heard the whole story until now.
Who will like this book: True crime readers. Anyone who remembers that day would be benefited by reading this important book.
If you like this, try this: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. A fictional work that deals, in part, with Columbine and it’s aftermath, The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.
Summary: Young Sarah Carrier has a tense relationship with her bold and opinionated mother, Martha. When she is sent to live with her aunt, cousins, and charismatic uncle during an outbreak of the plague, she wishes never to return to her parent’s household and backbreaking farm life. A family dispute over inherited land is soon overshadowed by an even larger threat to those who do not toe the line of Puritan conformity. The gossip about witches in the neighboring town of Salem soon escalates beyond any reason, and soon enough Martha Carrier is named a witch by the courts. Before she is arrested, she must ask Sarah, only 10 years old, to do the unthinkable.
Illuminating the horrifying nature of the trials, and the atrocious conditions those accused were forced to live in, The Heretic’s Wife is historical fiction at it’s best. You will read this engrossing debut novel, written by a descendant of the Carrier family, in no time at all.
Who will like this book?: People who like intense historical fiction or who are interested in the Salem Witch Trials.
If you like this, try this:The Minister’s Daughter by Julie Hearn. A mystery set in modern-day Salem, The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry.
Summary: The Vagrants takes place in the town of Muddy River in China during the late 1970s. The focus of the story is the execution of Gu Shan as a counterrevolutionary and the effect that her death has on various members of her community. Some of these residents were victims of Gu Shan during her days as a Red Guard and are excited about the upcoming denunciation ceremony and her execution. Others realize this is another injustice. The reader is introduced to several characters but what they have most in common is the oppression they suffer at the hands of their communist government. This is a tragic story but well worth reading.
Who will like this book? Readers who like historical fiction.