From Library Journal
Under the guise of cultural studies, humankind's ceaseless fascination with human anomalies has gained a newfound legitimacy, and publishers are producing ever more works to satisfy both the prurient and intellectual ends of the scale. This handsomely produced book, unfortunately, seems unsure about where to place its focus and, ultimately, will disappoint most readers. Purcell, a photographer, writer, and curator of a show at the Getty Research Institute, from which this book was derived, has written a rambling, unconstructed text that not infrequently touches on fascinating ideas and historical examples. But just as often she abandons a theme just as she gets beneath the surface or moves on to another sample before fully examining the specimen before us. Her thesis?that the collectors and classifiers play as much a role in creating a freak as do the abnormalities?is interesting, if not entirely new, but never truly develops. Recommended only for academic cultural studies collections; popular collections would do better with Lawrence Weschler's Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder (LJ 10/1/95) and Jan Bondeson's A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities (LJ 10/15/97).?Douglas McClemont, New York
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Purcell must have felt challenged in selecting a fitting title for her unusual book, which, though based on an exhibition she curated, is much more than a catalog. Readers may feel challenged, too, by the striking illustrations, the detailed text, and the many direct and indirect questions that artist and historian Purcell raises, especially why and how people react to the sight of anomalies and monsters. A few of her particular subjects are well-known, but most aren't, for they were selected "from the dustiest corners of the furthest reaches of the oddest places." Their range runs from a seventeenth-century depiction of the bodies floating in Noah's flood to the graphic illustration from the fifteenth-century traveler Bernard de Mandeville's Voyages
of a dog-headed man devouring a Crusader to the colorful Mary Sabina, the "Piebald Black Child," as eighteenth-century Europe called her. In all, a volume with diverse and peculiar appeal. William Beatty