Real ghost stories. Chilling true crime cases. Skulls with gruesome histories. These creepy fall reads will keep you up at night with fascination…or fright.
I embarked on a mission to create a simple list of weird book recommendations that would look great (and possibly frighten guests) on your coffee table. Instead I accidentally assembled a rather profound exploration of humanity’s most primal anxiety: Death.
As far as anyone can tell, no one has ever actually lived forever, be it physically or spiritually. However, that does not end our tireless efforts to keep death at bay, or the eternal struggle to accept our seemingly inescapable fates.
These books delve into the science of mortality and the veneration of death, a macabre look at the dark side that exists in the desperate pursuit of life.
Beyond the Dark Veil: Post Mortem & Mourning Photography from The Thanatos Archive
Beyond the Dark Veil is a compilation of more than 120 extraordinary and haunting photographs and related ephemera documenting the practice of death and mourning photography in the Victorian Era and early twentieth century. Supplemented with original newspaper articles, clippings, funeral notices, memorial ephemera and more, the collection will take us on a journey through a fascinating, moving, and melancholically beautiful part of our past. The images in Beyond the Dark Veil speak to us: they speak of love, loss, lives cut short, brave final hours, shattered families, and the depths of the human spirit.
Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses
Sometimes death is only the beginning. Author Bess Lovejoy crafted a fascinating book tracing the true adventures of historical celebrities, or at least pieces of them, after they met their various fates.
For some of the most influential figures in history, death marked the start of a new adventure. The famous deceased have been stolen, burned, sold, pickled, frozen, stuffed, impersonated, and even filed away in a lawyer’s office. Their fingers, teeth, toes, arms, legs, skulls, hearts, lungs, and nether regions have embarked on voyages that crisscross the globe and stretch the imagination.
Counterfeiters tried to steal Lincoln’s corpse. Einstein’s brain went on a cross-country road trip. And after Lord Horatio Nelson perished at Trafalgar, his sailors submerged him in brandy—which they drank.
From Alexander the Great to Elvis Presley, and from Beethoven to Dorothy Parker, Rest in Pieces connects the lives of the famous dead to the hilarious and horrifying adventures of their corpses, and traces the evolution of cultural attitudes toward death.
Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930
This book is a window into early American medicine, documenting the rite of cadaver dissection for medical students. These photos pierce the veil, allowing a rare glimpse into the highly exclusive inner sanctum where men cut into dead bodies on bloody tables to learn how to heal the living.
Mutter Museum: Historic Medical Photographs
The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia is home to a macabre collection of human oddities and medical anomalies throughout medical history. This book showcases photos from the collection depicting Civil War medicine, ravaging diseases, deformities and psychological disorders.
The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses
It is sometimes said that death is the last taboo, but it was not always so. For centuries, religious establishments constructed decorated ossuaries and charnel houses that stand as masterpieces of art created from human bone. These unique structures have been pushed into the footnotes of history; they were part of a dialogue with death that is now silent.
The sites in this specially photographed and brilliantly original study range from the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Palermo, where the living would visit mummified or skeletal remains and lovingly dress them; to the Paris catacombs; to fantastic bone-encrusted creations in Austria, Cambodia, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and elsewhere.
Paul Koudounaris photographed more than seventy sites for this book. He analyzes the role of these remarkable memorials within the cultures that created them, as well as the mythology and folklore that developed around them, and skillfully traces a remarkable human endeavor.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession.
Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty – a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre – took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.
Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?
The Victorian Book of the Dead
Chris Woodyard, author of the The Ghosts of the Past series, digs through long-buried newspapers and journals, for this fascinating look at the 19th-century obsession with the culture of death.
The Victorian Book of the Dead unearths extraordinary tales of Victorian funeral fads and fancies, ghost stories, bizarre deaths, mourning novelties, gallows humor, premature burial, post-mortem photographs, death omens, and funeral disasters. Resurrected from original sources, these accounts reveal the oddities and eccentricities of Victorian mourning.
Packed with macabre anecdotes, this diverting, yet gruesome collection presents tales ranging from the paranormal and shocking to the heartbreaking. Some of the stories in The Victorian Book of the Dead *mourning bicycles, black boudoirs, and sable cigarettes for the up-to-date widow *a child ghost who beckoned for her father to follow her into death *black dogs and shrieking banshee who foretold death and disaster *the widow who fired the undertaker who would not give her trading stamps. *a corpse that spontaneously combusted in the coffin *the fiendish parrot who murdered his mistress *The petrified corpse furniture created by Professor Segato *visions of the Grim Reaper and the Angel of Death *the man who lived in the tomb of his wife *A mourning wreath made from the hair of a murdered family *interviews with undertakers, post-mortem photographers and morgue attendants And many more tales from the crypts.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers?some willingly, some unwittingly?have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They’ve tested France’s first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.
In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries?from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors’ conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.
The Talking Dead: A Collection of Messages from Beyond the Veil, 1850s to 1920s
If the dead could talk, what would they say? According to mediums during the height of Spiritualism, a lot.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, psychics were busy delivering a cornucopia of messages from beyond the veil, including many from some of world’s greatest luminaries. Hear all about the afterlife straight from William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, and other spirits living it up in death in this most unusual collection of writing.
Editor Marc Hartzman guides readers through these post-mortem communications across three main sections:
Spirit Teachings – What is the afterlife like? What is God like? Do we have to eat? Drink? Where do we live? The answers to these questions, and many more, await the living.
Afterlives of the Rich and Famous – How are the world’s greatest writers enjoying life on the Other Side? What new works have they had time to author? And what advice did our most beloved presidents have for America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century?
Heaven on Mars – Forget Heaven on Earth, according to one medium, Heaven is on Mars. Read all about it in one very thorough description from a spirit living on the Red Planet.
Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin
On bookshelves around the world, surrounded by ordinary books bound in paper and leather, rest other volumes of a distinctly strange and grisly sort: those bound in human skin. Would you know one if you held it in your hand?
In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind anthropodermic bibliopegy?the practice of binding books in this most intimate covering. Dozens of such books live on in the world’s most famous libraries and museums. Dark Archives exhumes their origins and brings to life the doctors, murderers, innocents, and indigents whose lives are sewn together in this disquieting collection. Along the way, Rosenbloom tells the story of how her team of scientists, curators, and librarians test rumored anthropodermic books, untangling the myths around their creation and reckoning with the ethics of their custodianship.
A librarian and journalist, Rosenbloom is a member of The Order of the Good Death and a cofounder of their Death Salon, a community that encourages conversations, scholarship, and art about mortality and mourning. In Dark Archives?captivating and macabre in all the right ways?she has crafted a narrative that is equal parts detective work, academic intrigue, history, and medical curiosity: a book as rare and thrilling as its subject.