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10 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No Nail-Biter, August 7, 2012
This review is from: Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: the History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians (Paperback)
Author Richard Sugg undertakes in this volume to demonstrate that for the last couple of thousand years, including modern times down to about the 18th century, various parts of the human body have been used for medicinal purposes. The good news is that he succeeds. The bad news is that his telling threatens his readers with their own intellectual mummification.

As I wrote in my review of Emily Cockayne's `Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 1600-1770,' there is something singularly off-putting about commercially published works that started life as postgraduate dissertations. What puts one off is the apparently irresistible urge of an author to include every scintilla of data collected during the research process and then flog it to an inch of its useful informative life.

Although Sugg does not acknowledge any such genesis, the hallmarks are, in my opinion, unmistakable. The entire book reads like a footnote. Dense, repetitive, and intrusively speculative, the narrative time and again evidences the author's refusal to let the story tell itself. And just so there's no doubt about the research required to produce it, there follows seventy (70) pages of endnotes. Good gracious.

In short, the inherent story holds great promise which the author manages to squelch. Let me give you some alternatives. If you would like to read about the history of British medicine, and medicine in general for that matter, try the several masterful survey treatments by the late, and much lamented, Dr. Roy Porter. If you're intrigued (and who isn't?) by the appallingly filthy living conditions of our forebears (a section of the book Sugg actually manages with some dexterity), give a look to Katherine Ashenburg's wonderful `The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History.'

As for `Mummies,' two stars for the research, none for the, uh, dissertation.
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