Friday, April 5, 2013

Review: How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg

How They Croaked:  The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous--Georgia Bragg
Illustrated by Kevin O'Malley
Marc 2011 by Walker Childrens
184 pages--Goodreads

Over the course of history men and women have lived and died. In fact, getting sick and dying can be a big, ugly mess-especially before the modern medical care that we all enjoy today. How They Croaked relays all the gory details of how nineteen world figures gave up the ghost. For example:

It is believed that Henry VIII's remains exploded within his coffin while lying in state.
Doctors "treated" George Washington by draining almost 80 ounces of blood before he finally kicked the bucket.
Right before Beethoven wrote his last notes, doctors drilled a hole in his stomach without any pain medication.
Readers will be interested well past the final curtain, and feel lucky to live in a world with painkillers, X-rays, soap, and 911.

This is not a good book to read right before bed.  Despite the disclaimer in the first few pages to not read it if you don't have guts for gore, I read it.  And I have a very weak stomach.  I tend to pass out during first aid training.  And after shots.  So, interesting tidbits like Elizabeth I developing puss-filled sores in her throat make me nauseous.  I even got grossed out while writing this review.  So, not really my type of book, but I can see middles schoolers loving it.  I mean, Henry VIII's corpse exploded; even I think that's cool.

It seemed like there were some biographical inaccuracies, but I don't know my history well enough to say so definitively.  It's less of a blatantly incorrect facts and more of a oversimplification/telling history from the winner's bias thing.  Bloody Mary was not all bad and Elizabeth I killed her fair share of people.  I don't know.  

My only real complaint is a few glaring omissions.  Where are Rasputin and Phineas Gage?  Seriously.  Rasputin  was poisoned, beat to a pulp, shot four times, and drowned.  And it was the drowning that killed him!  And Phineas Gage got a steel rod shot through his head and was surprisingly okay, conscious, chatting with the doctor that examined him.  He didn't die until 12 years later.  Maybe Bragg needs to write a sequel:  How They Didn't Die When by All Rights They Should Have. 

How They Croaked has a light, almost conversational tone.  Bragg doesn't overload you with facts or dense text; it's just a nice easy read.  Since each historical figure's death story stands independently, it is easy to put down and pick up the book at will.  It's a fun, though gross, read, and it makes me very happy to live in a world where doctors wash their hands and use antibiotics.

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