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"Dr. Bondeson dissects a dozen . . . examples of human credulity with the scalpel of a forensic historian, and the result is a colorful collection of true detective stories." — Richard D. Altick
In this book of amazing oddities, Jan Bondeson explores unexpected, gruesome, and bizarre aspects of the history of medicine. He regales us with stories of spontaneous human combustion; vicious tribes of tailed men; the Two-Headed Boy of Bengal; Mary Toft, who allegedly gave birth to seventeen rabbits; and Julia Pastrana, exhibited around the world as the Ape Woman. Bondeson combines an historian's skill in showing us our timeless fascination with the grotesque with a physician's diagnostic abilities, as he examines the evidence and provides likely explanations for these peculiar events. "Fascinating. . . . Well-researched and extensively illustrated with items from [Bondeson's] personal collection, it covers a wide range of medical monstrosities, and there is something for everyone." — The Lancet "Entertaining in the simultaneously creepy and amusing way of a carnival sideshow. . . . Bondeson is quick to acknowledge absurdity, and his wry humor, along with his strong personal judgments, spice up the book." — Publishers Weekly "Bondeson . . . regards his exhibits with a careful scientist's eye, discovering misinterpreted evidence, tragic genetic mutations, and, occasionally, outright fraud." — Library Journal
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.
|Spontaneous Human Combustion||1|
|The Bosom Serpent||26|
|The Riddle of the Lousy Disease||51|
|Giants in the Earth||72|
|Apparent Death and Premature Burial||96|
|Mary Toft, the Rabbit Breeder||122|
|Three Remarkable Specimens in the Hunterian Museum||186|
|The Strange Story of Julia Pastrana||216|
|Note on Sources||245|