Review Blog

Dec 16 2012

How they croaked: the awful ends of the awfully famous by Georgia Bragg

cover image

Ill. by Kevin O'Malley. New York: Walker, 2012. 184 p.
(Age: 10-14) Recommended. This is a collection of stories about the deaths of 19 famous people from across time and place with as many awful details as possible. The deaths are presented chronologically and begin in Egypt with Tutankhamun in 1323 BC. Of course, there are many opportunities to describe ugly, gory, disgusting ends before the advent of modern medical science. Henry VIII's death in England in 1547 provides such an opportunity with a description of his grisly end due to a lifestyle of extreme excess.
Nevertheless, the author also selects some modern deaths. Marie Curie died in France in 1934 as a result of exposure to radiation after a lifetime of scientific research and the discovery of radium. Albert Einstein died in the USA in 1955 and ends the selection of deaths. Great detail is provided about his autopsy and the 'games' played with his brain over many decades. As well as describing each death the author provides biographical and historical detail about the famous person, so there is useful information for mainstream research.
The shiny, blood-red cover sets the scene perfectly for what lies within. The layout is effective with witty chapter headings and very brief 'death notices', followed by 4-6 pages describing the life and in particular the death of the famous person. The page numbers at the bottom of each page are cleverly ensconced in a 'skull and crossbones'. Included are several well-designed extras - Contents, Introduction, Connections, RIP (epilogue), Sources, Further Reading and Surfing plus an extensive Index.
As this is an American publication there are more American ends than would be expected in a comprehensive global search for awful deaths. The book also contains American terminology eg Mom and spelling eg color, rumor, center, which did not appeal to me, but will probably not concern the target market. The colloquial language should have wide appeal to children aged 10-14 years. They will just love the awful facts and the engaging, personal style of the author.
Margaret Strickland

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