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Skulls: An Exploration of Alan Dudley's Curious Collection

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Overview

Skulls is a beautiful spellbinding exploration of more than 300 different animal skulls­—amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles—written by New York Times bestselling author, Simon Winchester and produced in collaboration with Theodore Gray and Touch Press, the geniuses behind The Elements and Solar System.

In Skulls, best-selling author Simon Winchester (author of The Professor and the Madman; Atlantic: A Biography of the Ocean; Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded; and ...

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Overview

Skulls is a beautiful spellbinding exploration of more than 300 different animal skulls­—amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles—written by New York Times bestselling author, Simon Winchester and produced in collaboration with Theodore Gray and Touch Press, the geniuses behind The Elements and Solar System.

In Skulls, best-selling author Simon Winchester (author of The Professor and the Madman; Atlantic: A Biography of the Ocean; Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded; and others)tells the rich and fascinating story of skulls, both human and animal, from every perspective imaginable: historical, biographical, cultural, and iconographic. Presenting details about the parts of the skull (including the cranium, the mandible, the shape and positioning of the eye sockets, and species-specific features like horns, teeth, beaks and bills), information about the science and pseudoscience of skulls, and a look at skulls in religion, art and popular culture, his stories and information are riveting and enlightening.

At the center of Skulls is a stunning, never-before-seen-in-any-capacity, visual array of the skulls of more than 300 animals that walk, swim, and fly. The skulls are from the collection of Alan Dudley, a British collector and owner of what is probably the largest and most complete private collection of skulls in the world. Every skull is beautifully photographed to show several angles and to give the reader the most intimate view possible. Each includes a short explanatory paragraph and a data box with information on the animal's taxonomy, behavior, and diet.

Skulls was published in December 2011 as an e-book for the iPad by the innovative e-book publishers Touch Press, creators of the best-selling e-books for iPad The Elements and Solar System. Both books were also published in print by Black Dog & Leventhal.

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Editorial Reviews

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As an author Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman; Krakatoa) might be said to be a collector of scientific curios and natural oddities. In Alan Dudley, he might have encountered his ideal subject. The British taxidermist indulged his obsession with collecting animal remains to the point of being imprisoned for breaking international bans on imported good. Fortunately, we don't have to get locked up to enjoy Dudley's finds. This splendid collection of reproductions of more than 300 human and animal skulls is accompanied by Winchester's fascinating commentary on historical, biographical, scientific, taxonomy, and cultural aspects. (P.S. Skulls was first released last year as a iPad app, in which form it attracted a wide, appreciative audience.)

Publishers Weekly
Digging deep into Alan Dudley’s collection of more than 2,000 skulls, Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) and photographer Mann highlight the rarest and most unusual of the vaunted cranium connoisseur’s world-class assortment (which is housed cozily in a spare upstairs bedroom in his home in England). Grouping the skulls according to species, Winchester enthusiastically educates armchair osteologists on the peculiarities of key subspecies, enabling readers, should the need arise, to tell a long-nosed bandicoot from a southern brown bandicoot, the bizarrely horned babirusa from a warthog, or the fearsome (and extinct) saber-toothed cat from a modern (endangered) tiger. Though some, like the hard-to-find elephant skull, are replicas, the vast majority are the real thing, including that of the extinct dodo bird. Winchester rounds out the book with various essays on topics such as the use of skulls in artwork, phrenology, and other related subjects with varying degrees of success. Prone to wordiness, he’s at his best offering short takes on his subjects or tips on DIY skull collecting. Mann’s crisp, reverential photography more than makes up for the volume’s literary shortcomings, making this one coffee-table book that’s hard to resist. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, William Morris Endeavor. (Oct.)
BBC Focus (Science and Technology) - Jenny Clack
This is a gorgeous, coffee-table book that will the delight the heart... I loved this book. A real treasure.
From the Publisher
Digging deep into Alan Dudley's collection of more than 2,000 skulls, Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) and photographer Mann highlight the rarest and most unusual of the vaunted cranium connoisseur's world-class assortment (which is housed cozily in a spare upstairs bedroom in his home in England). Grouping the skulls according to species, Winchester enthusiastically educates armchair osteologists on the peculiarities of key subspecies, enabling readers, should the need arise, to tell a long-nosed bandicoot from a southern brown bandicoot, the bizarrely horned babirusa from a warthog, or the fearsome (and extinct) saber-toothed cat from a modern (endangered) tiger. Though some, like the hard-to-find elephant skull, are replicas, the vast majority are the real thing, including that of the extinct dodo bird. Winchester rounds out the book with various essays on topics such as the use of skulls in artwork, phrenology, and other related subjects with varying degrees of success. Prone to wordiness, he's at his best offering short takes on his subjects or tips on DIY skull collecting. Mann's crisp, reverential photography more than makes up for the volume's literary shortcomings, making this one coffee-table book that's hard to resist.
Library Journal
This eye-catching catalog of British collector Alan Dudley's animal skulls, which originally appeared as an iPad application in December 2011, is a wonderful addition to the field of natural history. Prolific author Winchester (Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories) deftly handles both history and science as he surveys Dudley's titular "curious collection," which is beautifully photographed with each entry annotated by a descriptive paragraph and classification information. Interspersed among the images are brief essays on topics from the iconography of the skull to the skull in Mexico. The primarily black pages set off the striking images and accompanying text. VERDICT Highly recommended for curious readers of nonfiction, especially those unafraid of the macabre. A delight.—Eric D. Albright, Tufts Univ. Libs., Boston
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781579129125
  • Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/9/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 128,606
  • Product dimensions: 10.30 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Winchester

Nick Mann is the photographer of The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. Aside from having photographed more elements and compounds than probably anyone in the world, he is an accomplished landscape, sports, and event photographer. He lives in Urbana, Illinois.

Simon Winchester is the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman, The Map that Changed the World, Krakatoa, A Crack in the Edge of the World and more than a dozen other books. His work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, National Geographic and elsewhere. Mr. Winchester was made Officer of the Order of British Empire (OBE) by HM The Queen in 2006. He lives in New York City and Massachusetts.

Biography

One of the leading practitioners of the offbeat, narrative nonfiction genre The New York Times affectionately calls "cocktail-party science," Simon Winchester studied geology at Oxford, worked on offshore oil rigs, and traveled extensively before settling into a writing career. For twenty years, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Guardian, augmenting his income by writing articles and well-written but little-read travel books. Then, an obscure footnote in a book he was reading for sheer recreation sparked the idea of a lifetime.

The book in question was Jonathon Green's Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made, and the footnote read, "Readers will of course be familiar with the story of W.C. Minor, the convicted, deranged, American lunatic murderer, contributor to the OED." Immediately, Winchester knew he had stumbled on a real story, one filled with drama, intrigue, and human interest. Published in 1998, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Oxford English Dictionary was an overnight success, garnering rave reviews on both sides of the pond, and remained on The New York Times hardcover bestseller list for more than a year.

Fueled by curiosity, passion, and a journalist's instinct for what makes "good copy," Winchester has gone on to explore the obscure, arcane, and idiosyncratic in blockbusters like The Map that Changed the World, Krakatoa, and The Man Who Loved China. Coincidentally, his subjects have placed him squarely in the forefront of the new wave of nonfiction so popular at the start of the 21st century. In an interview with Atlantic Monthly, Winchester explained the phenomenon thusly: ""It shows, I think, that there is deep, deep down -- but underserved for a long time -- an eagerness for real stories, real narratives, about rich and interesting things. We -- writers, editors -- just ignored this, by passed this. Now we are tapping into it again."

Good To Know

Winchester once spent three months looking at whirlpools on assignment for Smithsonian magazine.

He once wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times to correct a factual error in an article about where the millennium would first hit land on the morning of Jan. 1, 2000. (It was the island of Tafahi, not the coral atoll Kirabati.)

He reportedly loves the words "butterfly" and "dawn."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York; Massachusetts; Scotland
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 28, 1944
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      M.A., St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, 1966
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 23, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    In our bodies, the framework for muscles, tendons and ligaments

    In our bodies, the framework for muscles, tendons and ligaments is the skeleton, topped by a skull, a face as unique as each creature itself. Whether it be a reptile, primate, eel, catfish, frog, newt or penguin, the skull houses the central processing unit, the brain. This powers each animal, bird or snake. Teeth highlight the jaw and in some, a prominent brow ridge or horns crown the whole in magnificent glory.
    Alan Dudley was fascinated by skulls. At an early age, he found the body of a dead fox and brought it home to inspect it in greater detail. However, prepping the skull for collection proved to be a bit of a trial. Maggots, which feasted on the flesh of the carcass, were often a little overzealous, leading to damage of fine bone. The alternative was to soak each skull in water for a very, very long period of time, allowing the natural bacteria to run their course. This avenue proved to be extremely smelly, but very effective and at last, Dudley’s collection began to grow in earnest.
    Unfortunately, Dudley’s zeal for collecting led him to obtain the skulls of a few endangered species, which ultimately progressed to his arrest. Nevertheless, Dudley’s collection remains one of the most detailed accounts of fauna on the planet.
    Kudos to Nick Mann’s numerous photographs, too. These illustrate with brilliant clarity the extensive variations in each skull, often from multiple angles. This book is essential for zoologists and students of biology. It is also a stunning, unique gift and a perfect accent for your coffee table.

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    Posted December 15, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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