Sunday, April 1, 2012

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends Of The Awfully Famous

WARNING: Before opening this book, be aware the tales included inside are not for the weak of heart, or stomach. They will include scorching temperatures, sizeable swellings, and bouts with the shivers leaving you begging for air to breath. Your head may be cut off, your body stabbed repeatedly by peers or you may take your own life. Can you handle it? Do you think you have what it takes to get through the entire book?

Since day one, there has always been one solid constant throughout time: people die.

Death is unavoidable, nobody can escape it. Some may believe they can do this, that or the other thing to prolong the period of time before resting in their final slumbering place and others feel when your number is called, it’s time to go, no matter your age.

Georgia Bragg, author of “How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous”, puts a twist on the lives of the people we’ve read about since beginning school. She achieves this through telling of the days before each person selected for her book kicked the bucket, the medical procedures endured by the soon-to-be-dead and what actually killed them.

Bragg has found a way to weave history – be it American History, World History or the way medicine and medical procedures were practiced when these people died – into the comical text. While waiting for the blood spilling moment or the gory execution to take place, you also read and learn a little about the situations these people were in which, in many cases, may have - or did lead – these awfully famous men and women to their deaths.

This book, in no way, is any of the books we read in grade school. It is morbidly educational, darkly entertaining and, with a grip like the Grim Reaper herself, forces you to keep turning the page to read more of the final days of all parties involved.

Beside the stories of death, murder and assassination, at the end of each chapter she includes a page or two dedicated to key words, key phrases, how the story just read influences the way life is today and other tid-bits of information relating to the person the chapter was dedicated to.

So, you may be asking how the deaths of people long ago relate, in any way, to you and you should read this book? How kind of you to inquire, dear reader. Let me ask you a few questions.

Do you know why the calendar we use today is called the Gregorian Calendar? If not, you will. If you care none what the calendar is called and have a larger taste for the grotesque, you will find out a dehydrated human eyeball shrinks away to almost nothing, but when it is rehydrated it will expand almost to its original size. After reading this book, you’ll know what famous dead person doctors today can thank for this information.

Interested yet?

Do you know why the procedure to extract a baby from the belly of its mother is called a C-Section? Do you know that the three letter word for 16-across in the Sunday crossword puzzle with the clue, “this caused the death of Cleopatra” is not “asp” and she died in a completely different way than what most accredit her death to? How many of you know about leeching or bloodletting? You will after reading this book.


I’ll assume you’ve all been to parties with great food and drink. Who hosed this party? You know what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because in no way, did it even come close to the party Henry VIII threw. You’ll find out why.

Do you like Disney movies? You can learn who John Smith WASN’T when you read about Pocahontas and the ordeal she went through.

But maybe big parties and Disney movies aren’t your cup of tea. Maybe you used to watch ER or are in love with Dr. McDreamy of Grey’s Anatomy. If so, you’ll learn what the secretion of crystallized uric acid is more commonly called. Maybe you like to read as much literature as you can about the same person, place or thing; Jesus Christ being the numero uno topic to have a book based on. Do you know who the 2nd most popular person is to have a book written about them? Go ahead; take a “small” guess.

Though this book is very descriptive – maybe a tad too descriptive for grade school aged children to read – it is full of information of the people involved, their stories and their deaths.

It’s funny, this History business. History is a recorded timetable of the people and events related to the period. Something you would think never changes. But it always changes. Every day.

So, do you think you have what it takes to get through the entire book?

Only History can tell.


Sarah Rau said...

Great review! I, being squeamish and uncomfortable with the notion of death, would probably not be the ideal candidate for making it through this book. However, you've presented it in such a captivating way, I'd still like to try! I am completely fascinated by the idea of our history (of our country....our world...everything) being told in a different form than what is usually presented as. It sounds like this book does a great job of offering a ton of quirky, interesting facts that most people have never learned. I will most certainly give it a read--if I can stomach my way through it of course.

ashallard said...

I think that this was such a great review. I was interested in picking this book when I saw it was offered on the list to choose from. Looks like you beat me to it! I am interested in the often not talked about deaths of the famous. The grays anatomy information also caught my eye! This will definitely be something I will check out. I do question if it should be assigned to grade school or middle school children though...

Safa said...

I want to take the challenge of getting through the book, only because you have presented death in a non-traditional way. I would like to read about the causes of death of many famous people as mentioned. Most importantly, as a teenager this would have been the best book to pick up. Seeing, that I always tried to stay current with celebrities life, and their family history. Great review!!!


David Morrison said...

I was starting to wonder who could've possibly written such a descriptive (and freakishly friendly) review that would take hold of all of us. Needless to say, I said to myself, "Of course!" when I read that it was you, Freddy. I thought your questions and teasers were perfect for setting the hook of any potential reader. The eyeball fact? Awesome. Your review does a great job of providing historical fact alongside the gruesome stuff. Part of me wants to say that your review was a "wee bit" long, but that's only a minor critique. Good job!

Tom Philion said...

Hey Fred--I concur with the comments above--nice job! Only suggestion is that maybe you could cut back just a little, or add in some more links related to some of the historical events that you cite.

If you like this book, check out a book called Stiff. This is for adults, but strong teen readers who are juniors and seniors would find this very compelling:


Cessacolypse said...

Stiff is a great book to read, although it does get a bit boring near the end. However, this book, too, is very graphic and at times makes you shake and go 'bleugh!' but other times, it's quite humorous...but dark humor. You'll question yourself "This is SO horrible, why am I laughing??" [Cool points for having read that Professor P.] I agree with that reccommendation.

I don't know why, but this review made me remember something that happened in the RU elevator...A professor [with crazy hair] accidentally stepped on my foot, and when he apologized he started telling me about how Marie Antoinette stepped on a man's foot on the way up to the guillotine. He told me that she stopped and told the man, 'Begging your pardon, sir, I did not do that on purpose.' I will never forget that man...and the amusement I got from his character and story.

Just thought I'd share that memory...

KMilsap said...

Fred, I can definitely agree with many of the other comments that were made. I would not typically read a book of this sort, but the cover page, and the descriptions of your review drawed me completely in.. The book seems that it offers a wealth of information. I am ready to step outside of my box and give this one a try...