"LUCY'S BONES, SACRED STONES, AND EINSTEIN'S BRAIN" by Harvey Rachlin

"LUCY'S BONES, SACRED STONES, AND EINSTEIN'S BRAIN"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Although relics of the ages promise to be a quirkily charming route to historical knowledge, they receive pedestrian treatment here by Rachlin (The Making of a Detective, p. 1170, etc.). Fifty-three objects are presented along with accounts of their histories, what they look like, how they were recovered, and where they are now. Rachlin begins ""before the creation of humankind,"" with the Black Stone of the Kabah, housed in Mecca and believed in Islamic tradition to have been brought to Earth by Adam from Paradise. Rachlin then moves quickly through the ages, to the Rosetta Stone, the Bayeux Tapestry, Napoleon's penis, Piltdown Man, and other artifacts, concluding with Voyager 1 and Voyager 2's Gold-Plated Phonograph Record for Extraterrestrials, which includes friendly greetings, natural Earth sounds, and musical pieces from Mozart and Chuck Berry (its present location is outer space). But Rachlin fails to dramatize his opening claim that such artifacts ""make physically manifest the dreams and ideas, great deeds and events, of human history."" His writing is unexciting; potentially compelling tales are flatly told. Nor is the history anything but the barest outline--although with so many objects presented, it isn't surprising that Rachlin can't go into satisfying detail about any given one. And most of the stories will be familiar to all but the historically illiterate. Rachlin does, however, discredit a couple of common misconceptions: George Washington's false teeth were not made of wood--they were carved from the teeth of sheep, deer, elephants, and other animals; and Jeremy Bentham's body and head have been preserved, but he is not recorded as ""present but not voting"" at meetings of the college council at University College London. Interesting new ways to present history are in short supply; it's particularly disappointing when one is squandered.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Henry Holt