Monday, July 11, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: How They Croaked

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley
Walker and Company, 2011
Grades 4-8
Reviewed from my school library copy.

I debated for quite some time about whether to read this book.  There is after all a warning at the beginning that the book contains "the blood, sweat, and guts of real people."  And I've never been one for grossness.  But in the end I decided that in order to share it with my students, many of whom I knew would be fascinated by this book, I needed to read it.

This book specifically looks at the lives (briefly) and unpleasant 'ends' of some of the worlds most famous people.  Included are King Tut, Cleopatra, Henry VIII, Pocahontas, George Washington, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Darwin, etc.  I confess that I didn't really expect to learn anything new.  I love history and most of the people Bragg talks about are well-known.  But I did learn things that surprised me.  For example, I had no idea that Charles Dickens struggled with mental illness or that Albert Einstein's brain was stolen from his body before it was cremated.  And I seriously had to wince reading the details of Christopher Columbus's numerous physical maladies.

This books is definitely not for the squeamish, but Bragg's light-hearted take on the subject keeps things moving while convincing the modern reader to be very grateful for modern medicine.  For example, George Washington came down with what modern doctor's think was a throat infection that today could be cured by antibiotics.  But his doctors used the following 'remedies,' bloodletting (numerous times, they took over a third of his blood), blister-beetle treatment (you don't want to know!), a dose of calomel (contains mercury, which is highly poisonous, tartar emetic (to make him vomit), and a variety of different poultices.  No wonder he died!

Kevin O'Malley's illustrations provide a nice compliment to Bragg's style of writing and the sidebars provide extra tidbits of information.  For example, did you know that July, Julian Calendar, Roman leaders, Czar, Kaiser, and C-section were all named after Julius Caesar.  Also the first known autopsy was performed on Caesar.  One would doubt the need for that because with 23 stab wound, the cause of death should be obvious, but it turns out that only ONE of the wounds was actually fatal.  Apparently the assassins need to work on their aim.

I'm going to stop here because I wouldn't want to deprive you of the 'delights' of reading this book for yourself.  Even if it doesn't work for you, I guarantee that someone in your life will be delighted to read it and share all the cool facts they learn with you! :)

Other reviews may be found at:  NPR, Practically Paradise, Bookends, and The Book Maven's Haven.

Also head on over to proseandkahn for today's Nonfiction Monday round-up.

1 comment:

  1. We also have a review of this book—and many other high interest books for reluctant readers—at Check us out! : )


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