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Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality; With a New Preface Paperback – April 20, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This book is fascinating reading for physicians and anthropologists as well as anyone interested in folklore."—R. Ted Steinbock, MD, Journal of the American Medical Association
(R. Ted Steinbock, MD Journal of the American Medical Association)

"Since this is essentially a scholarly work on human decomposition and historical attitudes to it, it is remarkable how often Paul Barber manages to be funny. . . . His insights, medical and cultural, hold a chastening fascination."—Hugh Barnacle, Independent
(Hugh Barnacle Independent)

"Barber’s inquiry into vampires, fact and fiction, is a gem in the literature of debunking. . . . Barber’s book is a convincing exercise in mental archaeology. . . ."—Roy Porter, Nature
(Roy Porter Nature)

About the Author

Paul Barber is a research associate at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (April 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300164815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300164817
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #799,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Laurie A. Brown VINE VOICE on November 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
Are no sparkly or sexy vampires here; not even any who wear evening dress and travel with coffins of dirt. This nonfiction book explores the very roots of the vampire legend and ties it to the unexpected things that dead bodies can do and how the people of yesterday interpreted those things.

The average corpse does certain things: the face turns pale and waxy, the limbs become rigid, the blood coagulates, and it lays silent and unmoving. But not all corpses follow those rules; depending on how the person died, they may have a red face. After a certain point, rigor leaves and the body becomes limp again. The blood does not always coagulate. A corpse filled with gasses from decay may make sounds when moved or prodded. These things are explainable through science today, but weren't 500 or more years ago.

The book reads like a master's or doctoral thesis: Barber makes his points clearly and presents well researched proof to back them. While much of his research was in folklore, he has also gone to the experts in dead bodies: coroners and medical examiners. He's got the facts down cold: the physical signs of bodies that were declared vampires or revenants could all be explained by science. The stories that grew around them, of course, were all human imagination. If a body could groan and move and bleed, why couldn't it be what was making trouble at night in the village?

I'm not going to say that lovers of vampire novels will like this book (I'm not saying they won't, either). Lovers of folklore and human nature will. A warning: the descriptions of dead bodies are very graphic, although certainly not sensational. It's all presented in a dry, just the facts manner, but very interesting.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dusk on December 14, 2012
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I feel like I earned a closer seat to the heart of the human race by reading this book and I now have a better understanding of what our ancestors believed and knew about death and the beyond. Mr. Barber's writing takes the reader back in time to walk alongside those to whom death was not sterilized and institutionalized. With his approach and word choice, he covers topics that could offend, but he skillfully avoids those field mines. Delightfully to the morbid and curious, he discusses in full detail the processes of decomposition and their contribution to vampire lore. I read the book and shared passages with the whole family. We had great fun talking about dead bodies, what can and will happen to our own, and how decomposition and the hindrance thereof has effected history. I thank Mr. Barber for his candor and curiosity that has produced this gem of a book that allows for thoughtful consideration of an experience we all share, but rarely see anymore.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By transponder on November 23, 2012
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This is a rational investigation into the claims made by Eastern European folklore -- its witnesses and spectators -- who often observed the processes of decay but did not understand what they were seeing and therefore came up with what seemed like plausible explanations for them. Barber expertly separates fact from folklore but also shows how they intertwine, in ways that uneducated locals were unaware of. Highly recommended.
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This is a somewhat fascinating book. It clearly draws and explains the distinction between 'fictional ' vampires and 'folkloric' vampires. All fictional vampires flow from Bram Stoker's novel, "Dracula". Today all movies, t.v. shows. etc. etc., all follow the guidelines Stoker set out. What I was unaware of is the in Europe (and other parts of the world) vampires existed in the various cultures and popular imagination. Too my surprise, the author quotes verbatim and at length from several official government reports from several governments (German, French, Greek, East European countries), of the officially observed by State authorities exhumations, and the staking or beheading of supposed vampires. He also provides the footnote data to find much much more. Not that I need to. He is convincing.

His explanation of what happens to a body as it decomposes, (supplied by the Medical Examiners of both NYC and LA) without the intervention of a modern mortician, are both accurate and gruesome. It also reminds us that the sole purpose of a casket/coffin is to provide the body protection from animals. In the past wolves, dogs, bears, would smell the poorly buried bodies and attempt to dig them up. The hole in the grave was of course proof to the village that a vampire had escaped; and if animal tracks were found, that the vampire could transform into a familiar.

The author can be tendentious and repetitive. I often felt the author was a student trying to fill a 'word count thesis', for a degree.

But overall, informative.
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A rather thorough reportage on burial customs with special focus on the legends and post-burial beliefs of folk societies. I purchased it as research for writing a vampire novel and I was able to obtain much information, detailed and valuable, which made my project more authentic. There are a lot of reprinted tales and accounts of burials, vampires, and similar phenomena. It is important to remember that this is a scholarly work, not a collection of "ghost" stories. As such, it is dry reading in places--not a burden if one is doing research--and sometimes seems devoted to the author's efforts more than the fruit of those efforts. Yet, overall, a worthy addition to one's library of folk legends.
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