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on February 11, 2013
On one hand, I found this book fascinating and it made me want to learn more about nineteenth-century London and the events that lead up to the writing of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. On the other hand, the reason this book made me want to do more research is that the research that went into this book is so poorly referenced.

Roseanne Montillo starts FAR too many sentences with "many believed" or "some have said" or "critics argued" without properly referencing WHO believed, WHO said, or WHO argued. This may not have been such a big oversight if so many of her claims weren't so fantastic. For instance, at one point she seems to suggest that the myth of the golem, a Jewish monster animated into human form, may have actually happened. I'm sure she doesn't really believe that...does she? She makes similar claims when talking about various experiments done by the "mad scientists" of the 19th century, those who tried to create or resurrect life with human body parts and electricity. While I understand her point that these experiments had a strong influence on Mary Shelley's writing, she sometimes presents the "success" of these experiments in ways that stretch credulity. And her footnotes--if you can call them that--are merely notes for further reading, broad suggestions about which books she used for which chapters, without giving specifics about sources, page numbers, etc. I know sometimes publishers ask that footnotes be cut for brevity, but these were actually longer than if she had just properly annotated her research. Plus, according to her acknowledgements, a lot of her "research" involved conversations she had with people before writing the book.

None of that makes it a bad book, per se. It's just not a history book. It's more of a long one-way conversation with Roseanne Montillo about the things she's heard about Frankenstein, 19th-century experiments, body snatchers, and Mary Shelley. To call it a history book would be like calling an Impressionist painting a photograph. And like an impressionist painting, it gives an approximation of the story she's trying to tell, approaching it in a series of anecdotes, the connections among which is not always immediately clear. Reading it was like spending an afternoon on Wikipedia and clicking all the links I came across. I learned a lot of things, most of which I'll want to verify from more reliable sources, even if I went off on a lot of tangents.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from Edelweiss. I was asked to write an honest review, though not necessarily a favourable one. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.
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on February 26, 2013
I read this book in one sitting. The writing is incredibly vivid and even beautiful in places. Ms. Montillo may be an academic -- the other reviewer, Richard Masloski, seems out of line and offensive when he suggests that she's not a professor when it clearly states on the book cover that she is -- but she writes like a great literary novelist. I knew the story of Mary Shelley's writing of Frankenstein, but the way she blends in the stories of the mad scientists who inspired Victor Frankenstein is absolutely brilliant. Anyone who is a fan of books like DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY or Laura Hillenbrand should run immediately to buy this book. It even reminded me a little bit of great literary historical fiction. The characters are that good and the story telling is page turning. I loved this book.
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on February 21, 2013
This is a fantastic book for anyone interested in the creation of one of the best-known characters in all of literature: Frankenstein. I love how the author weaves together the scientific and literary worlds of the early 1800s. And, it’s also wonderful to see Mary Shelley, who had to publish Frankenstein anonymously, take center stage rather than be known primarily for her other roles: the wife of English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and the daughter of two famous political philosophers. The book also doesn’t shy away from vivid descriptions of gory scientific experiments and fun gossip about the Shelleys’ literary friends, including the notorious womanizer Lord Byron. I see on the back cover that Publisher’s Weekly refers to this work as a “macabre romp…a delicious and enticing journey into the origins of a masterpiece” and that Booklist calls it “sick, shocking, and spellbinding.” I couldn’t say it better myself.
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on March 23, 2013
I found this book interesting and informative. However it did jump around quite a bit. The author is prone to digressions galore, some more welcomed than others. Despite its flaws I found it worth reading.
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on September 26, 2015
This reads like a college research paper, complete with unanswered questions, sweeping generalizations, large swathes of quoted material, and the lack of transition between ideas (or facts.) There are some interesting sections, but it becomes tedious with the constant descriptions of dissections and graphic science experiments. Even within chapters Montillo jumps between presumed connections she using information far removed from the original topic. It is not that it is poorly written so much as it is poorly structured and edited. If you are interested in connections between Galvinism, alchemists, anatomists, and various history of medical science that uses the story of Frankenstein as a way to talk about these things this is the book for you. If you are looking for insight into Mary Shelley's life and writing you might want to look for another book.
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on August 28, 2015
Roseanne Montillo has written another interesting biography that provides insight into the short tragic life of Mary Shelley. While not quite as good as her work about Jesse Pomeroy (believed to be America's youngest serial killer), the tale is sad and full of unfulfilled dreams in its attempt to capture the feel of the period and the potential for greatness never fully recognized, not only in Mary but also her husband and their friends like Lord Byron. Mary's creation of her masterpiece "Frankenstein" is discussed in some detail, but not the real legacy and impact she made for women in literary circles. Some still believe her husband to be the author because they don't want to have to admit a woman capable of such insight during that period. If possible I would actually have given the book four and a half stars instead of just four. I recommend it highly.
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on July 25, 2013
The topic of this book sounded very intriguing. Unfortunately, its discussion of the work done by early scientists is rather superficial. Also, as some other reviews have noted, the book is not very well written. It is disorganized, with the narrative jumping around in time, relating anecdotes as if they were related to each other but without proving actual connections. I stopped reading it halfway through.
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on December 11, 2015
Having recently read the original Frankenstein, I was interested in learning more of the historical background of the book. This book gave both the scientific history of au courant experiments with electricity and anatomy which so interested both Mary Shelley's father and husband and the literary background that surrounded her--father, William Godwin; mother, Mary Wollstonecraft; husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley; and friend, Lord Byron; as well as the public sentiment in regards to all these things. I am glad I read the book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 21, 2015
This book will interest many readers, and it got my interest, for about 40 pages when I stopped. The topic is interesting, the facts are solid and the writing is good.

So here's why I stopped. The story is interesting enough of itself, but Montillo wants to build up melodrama by piling on details. Mary Shelly's mother, Mary Godwinson, jumped off a bridge and failed in suicide. She married William Godwin, and she died in childbirth with--the woman who would later become Mary Shelly. The family (with new stepmother and family) lived in an area when the rabble cheered felons being hanged. There's scientific dissection of frogs and twitching muscles when exposed to electricity. Two stars for author's approach, but she does write with skill and the topic is fascinating, so three seems fairer.

Maybe you'll see what I mean. Potentially good stuff, but the piling on of melodrama is not to my taste. If it is for you, this book will likely carry you along with it.
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on December 27, 2014
This was an interesting read, weaving history and legend together in an artistic fashion. At times it was challenging with the struggles between the various love interests, but it cleared itself up in due time. While it does not dwell on the Frankenstein novel solely it provides wonderful glimpses in to the story behind the story.
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