Books by Jan Bondeson

Jan Bondeson teaches at Cardiff University, Wales. He is the author of many books, including The Two-headed Boy, and Other Medical Marvels; The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History (both from Cornell); The London Monster; The G

Released: Feb. 1, 2004

"Entertaining studies of classic imposters and a public inclined to be gullible even before the age of TV. (20 illustrations)"
Continuing his series of historical investigations (Buried Alive, 2001, etc.), Bondeson reconsiders perennial tales of substituted infants, royal pretenders, wild children, and claimants to lapsed inheritances. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2001

"A necrobibliac classic (in the tradition of Nancy Mitford's American Way of Death): it may keep you up all night—not from fear but from fascination."
Grave matters are treated with wit and erudition in this study of premature burial throughout Western history, from physician Bondeson (The London Monster, 2000, etc.).Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 2000

"An attentive, subtle rendering of a strange historical episode, alternatively disturbing and absurd."
A well-told narrative of the popular hysteria surrounding a mysterious, misogynist slasher who stalked London a century before the Ripper. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 2000

" A sober, informative disquisition on the sundry forms that humanity can assume and endure. (85 b&w photos)"
In a companion volume to his A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities (1997), physician Bondeson explores "the history of teratology, the science of monstrous births." Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1999

Bondeson (A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, 1997) is back with another mind-blowing collection of scientific anomalies and mysteries. Presented here are ten investigations into natural history at its most odd and occasionally macabre: barnacle geese purported to grow from trees, lambs born of plants in the wilds of Tartary, toads-in-the-hole blinking back the sunlight after being unlocked from centuries encased in solid stone. Bondeson has chosen his subjects not just for their outrageous qualities, but for their staying power over the years and the wealth of primary sources he could tap in shaping his stories, which read like spry narrative histories. What is perhaps most bizarre is the sheer number of animals that served as objects of fixation in 17th—19th-century Europe: drumming hares, vaulting apes, counting horses, dancing dogs, starling cardsharps. Bondeson gives plausible explanations where he can—he often has to give many explanations, for his subjects keep reappearing in new guises—though he never forces his hand, and many of the solutions were found at the time of the animal's fame. Mermaids, for example, be they "Feejee" or otherwise, are shown to have been a quilt of odd parts: head of orangutan and baboon, tail of salmon, with quill and horn accessories. That rain of frogs and fish may well have been the fallout of a waterspout, while the philosopher pigs—adepts at math and telling time, they were considered proof of the transmigration of souls—probably responded to hand signals. Bondeson wedges all manner of other stranger-than-life items into his tales: "an ambassador who forgot to remove his hat when meeting a Russian prince was punished by having the hat nailed to his skull by the palace guard." Bondeson doesn't seek important truths behind the grotesqueries, nor trenchant social criticisms. If he educates, it's as a broadly inquisitive and keen naturalist; that he amuses is not a point for debate. (63 b&w photos, 8 illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

Eight history-laden essays on bizarre beliefs, fears, and behaviors, plus two additional pieces on several unfortunate human anomalies—all serving as reminders of human gullibility, mendacity, and cruelty. Bondeson, a London-based physician who specializes in rheumatology and internal medicine and has a Ph.D. in experimental medicine, appears to have a genuine love for the weird: Many of the illustrations in this odd little work bear the note ``from the author's collection.'' Those fascinated by tabloid journalism's sensational reports of spontaneous human combustion or the birth of nonhuman creatures to human mothers will, however, probably be disappointed by Bondeson's rather scholarly approach. He traces the rise and decline of beliefs in these and other strange phenomena, reveals the motives of the parties involved, and offers a medical explanation where appropriate. Among his topics are the fear of premature burial and the extraordinary mechanical precautions taken by some to avoid that fate, the notion that a race of giants once walked the earth, and the belief in a race of people with tails. Bondeson then dwells on the cases of four unusual individuals whose fate was to be exhibited like sideshow freaks. Today the Hunterian, a London museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, houses the double skull of the Two-Headed Boy of Bengal and the skeletons of the huge Charles Byrne, known as the Irish Giant, and the tiny Caroline Crachami, a dwarf known as the Sicilian Fairy. The mummy of the fourth individual, Julia Pastrana, known as the Ape-Woman for her hairy body and misshapen face, is in a medical museum in Oslo, Norway. With its numerous illustrations of these poor creatures, this in-depth Believe It or Not can be seen as a continuation of the exploitation that marked their lives. Read full book review >