Not for the faint of heart, “They Lost their Heads! What Happened to Washington’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts” by Carlyn Beccia is a nonfiction book filled with gruesome and gory details about strange things that have been done to the deceased.
It begins with a beautiful love story — or is it? Pedro I of Portugal loved Inês so much that he tried to have her made his queen. The problem? At the time of the coronation, Inês had been dead for around eight years. It’s not pretty. Another story, labeled “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” is about the extremely lucrative practice of robbing graves to sell the freshly-dead bodies to medical schools who needed them for dissection purposes. To be clear, this was in the past — it’s not a current practice.
A less appetizing story is about those who decided to eat the dead. Who knew that famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera decided to try a cannibalistic diet for a few months. As is quoted in this book, he wrote in his autobiography that he preferred “women’s brains in vinaigrette.” The ancient Mexicans, the Aztecs, also ate the recently slain — as an honor.
Poor George Washington is also featured in this book, and the sad story of his teeth is shared in detail. Alexander the Great is the proud hero of a sweet story about how he wanted his corpse kept in a vat of honey after he died.
Kids might shudder while reading about Phineas Gage, the man who lived for over a decade with a rather good-sized hole in his head. He was buried with the rod that made the hole. Ancient Egyptians also buried items of value with the dead — most often their pets. The most sacred pet, the cat, was often interred with the body.
There are many more stories all about — you guessed it — dead bodies or other equally gruesome pieces of human flesh. Read it at your own risk. Kids will eat it up — perfect for fourth grade through adults. I enjoyed the stories!
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Bloomsbuty Children’s Books, the publisher, for review purposes.