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What Happened to Washington's Teeth, Einstein's Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts

by Carlyn Beccia ; illustrated by Carlyn Beccia

Pub Date: April 3rd, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-8027-3745-8
Publisher: Bloomsbury

This gleefully macabre mix of history and science relates true stories about the mysterious fates of body parts from the famous and infamous.

Told in frequently grisly detail are tales about King Pedro of Portugal, who had the corpse of his dead love crowned as his queen; Vincent Van Gogh, who sent his ear to a woman he admired; the thefts of Franz Josef Haydn’s head and Albert Einstein’s brain; the heart of Percy Bysshe Shelley, which would not burn when his body was cremated; how actress Sarah Bernhardt put her amputated leg in storage; and how a wart removed from Elvis Presley in 1958 is now in the possession of the owner of one of the world’s largest Elvis memorabilia collections. In addition, Beccia dispenses such grimly fascinating facts as: that the skins of hanged criminals were sometimes tanned and made into such articles as belts, bags, boots, and fancy book covers; that teeth extracted from corpses were used to make dentures; and that local executioners made extra money selling the fat of hanged criminals to make candles and soap. Beccia’s light, cheeky approach to the subject matter is tailor-made for a middle-grade audience: “See, bodies are a lot like egg-salad sandwiches—the colder they’re kept, the less likely they will stink over time.” The author’s wry, black-and-white cartoons are of a piece with both tone and content.

Readers fond of the gruesome and grotesque with a heavy dose of humor will find much to enjoy here.

(bibliography, source notes) (Nonfiction. 10-14)