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How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous Hardcover – March 15, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 120 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* From George �Little Mouth of Horrors� Washington to Marie �You Glow, Girl� Curie, Bragg chronicles with ghoulish glee the chronic or fatal maladies that afflicted 19 historical figures. Nonsqueamish readers will be entranced by her riveting descriptions of King Tut�s mummification (and the brutal treatment that mummy has received in modern times); the thoroughly septic �doctoring� that hastened or at least contributed to the deaths of Mozart, Napoleon, James A. Garfield, and others; the literal dissolution of Henry VIII�s body (�While lying in state, it is believed that his toxic remains exploded, and some of his royal splendidness dripped out the sides of the coffin overnight�); and the outrageous fates of Einstein�s brain, Galileo�s fingers, and other coroners� souvenirs. The author tucks quick notes on at least marginally relevant topics, such as leeching, scurvy, presidential assassins, and mummy eyes (�If mummy eyeballs are rehydrated, they return to almost normal size�), between the chapters and closes with generous lists of nontechnical print resources on each of her subjects. O�Malley�s cartoon portraits and spot art add just the right notes of humor to keep the contents from becoming too gross. Usually. Despite occasional farfetched claims�it�s hard to believe that Charles Darwin puked four million times, even though he was fanatical about keeping personal health records�this all-too-informative study deserves the wild popularity it will without doubt acquire. Grades 5-8. --John Peters

Review

“O'Malley's cartoon portraits and spot art add just the right notes of humor to keep the contents from becoming too gross. This all-too-informative study deserves the wild popularity it will without doubt acquire.” ―Booklist, starred review

“The most reluctant of readers will find it difficult to resist this consistently disgusting chronicle of the gruesome deaths of 19 will famous people. Bragg's informal, conversational style and O'Malley's cartoon illustrations complement the flippant approach to the subject; the energetically icky design includes little skulls and crossbones to contain page numbers. Engaging, informative and downright disgusting.” ―Kirkus

“Bragg holds forth on nineteen Big Names whose demises have raised eyebrows, questions, and probably a few lunches... Carried away on a swift-flowing stream of body fluids, medical ineptitude, and O'Malley's deliciously snarky artwork, kids will agree they got exactly what they came for.” ―BCCB

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Childrens (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802798179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802798176
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.9 x 10.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #736,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I debated for quite some time about whether to read this book. There is after all a warning at the beginning that the book contains "the blood, sweat, and guts of real people." And I've never been one for grossness. But in the end I decided that in order to share it with my students, many of whom I knew would be fascinated by this book, I needed to read it.

This book specifically looks at the lives (briefly) and unpleasant 'ends' of some of the worlds most famous people. Included are King Tut, Cleopatra, Henry VIII, Pocahontas, George Washington, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Darwin, etc. I confess that I didn't really expect to learn anything new. I love history and most of the people Bragg talks about are well-known. But I did learn things that surprised me. For example, I had no idea that Charles Dickens struggled with mental illness or that Albert Einstein's brain was stolen from his body before it was cremated. And I seriously had to wince reading the details of Christopher Columbus's numerous physical maladies.

This books is definitely not for the squeamish, but Bragg's light-hearted take on the subject keeps things moving while convincing the modern reader to be very grateful for modern medicine. For example, George Washington came down with what modern doctor's think was a throat infection that today could be cured by antibiotics. But his doctors used the following 'remedies,' bloodletting (numerous times, they took over a third of his blood), blister-beetle treatment (you don't want to know!), a dose of calomel (contains mercury, which is highly poisonous, tartar emetic (to make him vomit), and a variety of different poultices. No wonder he died!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I saw my grandson reading this book and it looked good. So much so, I did not want to wait for him to finish so I bought my own copy. It is a bit gory in parts as you might expect from the title but kids like that kind of thing. So far, it has been a fun, easy read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My soon-to-be 8 year old daughter has a bit of a macabre streak -- she saw this book at the mall and immediately put it on her birthday list. The rest of the family thought it a bit odd, but this IS the same girl that carries around a skeleton doll for the entire month of October...

'How They Croaked' goes further than just describing the "How" of the way some famous folks' lives ended -- there's also quite a bit of insight into some of the other medical issues they fought. And it doesn't just end at death... the book also reveals some surprising stories about missing body parts, thievery, etc. I learned quite a bit having it read aloud from the backseat during a roadtrip! Note: The book doesn't mince words when it comes to slicing, dicing and decomposing, so you can also expect this to lead to more conversations about anatomy, etc. Heed the notice at the beginning that says "If you don't have the guts for gore, do not read this book."

The publisher listed the book as appropriate for ages 10 to 14, but even at 8, my daughter was okay with it. YMMV. You'll definitely get used to hearing "Ewwwwww! Hey, did you know __________?"
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This wasn't quite as gross as I was hoping it would be, but the boy I gave it to really ate it up. This provides great introductory biographies to about a dozen historical figures. It also is a good introduction to various weird medical maladies. In all, an easy way to get some great medical and historical information across.
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Format: Paperback
Looking for an engaging read aloud for intermediate grade students? How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous (Bragg, 2011) might be a good idea. This book familiarizes students with famous people, with a sense of change over time (both books tell stories in chronological order), and they both have clear main ideas. How They Croaked (Bragg, 2011) is written with a sense of humor - which makes the guts and blood a little easier to swallow. What kid does not love gruesomeness? Bragg also reveals the idea that medicine and what we know about human ailments has evolved over time; unfortunately, there were some agonizing deaths along the way! This could serve as an anchor text for numerous lessons. I suggest reading it aloud, getting students interested, and then using a particular story about one famous person’s death to teach – maybe for loaded language, author’s tone, development of an idea, and so forth. Then additional excerpts could be used for small group reading and discussions. Another suggestion would be to post a timeline and the names of the famous people you read about as you go. OR you could just read this aloud for enjoyment. I'd also recommend this to parents for summer reading - independent or with a parent there to enjoy.
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Format: Paperback
What do Cleopatra, Albert Einstein, Mozart, and Edgar Allan Poe have in common? If you guessed that they are dead, you are absolutely correct! If you guessed that they died in really gruesome, gross, bizarre ways, you win a cookie! Not that you'll want to eat a cookie after reading this book, unless you are just weird like that. Georgia Bragg does a stellar job of telling us how 19 "awfully famous" folks met their really "awful ends" in this admittedly cool book. The sad thing is most of these famous people could have probably lived longer, better, healthier lives and done even greater (or worse in the case of Napoleon and a few others) things if only they had been born in modern times. Most of these folks could have been cured of their diseases with a simple round of antibiotics or at least not been bled to death with leeches, razors, and poisonous insects! (Yes, really!) The black and white illustrations by Kevin O'Malley add a special touch as do the facts scattered throughout the book about everything from how mummies are made to how many presidents died on July 4th. Book includes a list of sources, including internet sites, and a comprehensive index. Grades 5 and up will love reading about these famous folks and the gross ways they died. At the very least, they'll learn that it really is important to wash your hands!
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