Severed A history of heads lost and heads found

Frances Larson, 1976-

Book - 2014

"The human head is exceptional. It accommodates four of our five senses, encases the brain, and boasts the most expressive set of muscles in the body. It is our most distinctive attribute and connects our inner selves to the outer world. Yet there is a dark side to the head's preeminence, one that has, in the course of human history, manifested itself in everything from decapitation to headhunting. So explains anthropologist Frances Larson in this fascinating history of decapitated hum...an heads. From the Western collectors whose demand for shrunken heads spurred massacres to Second World War soldiers who sent the remains of the Japanese home to their girlfriends, from Madame Tussaud modeling the guillotined head of Robespierre to Damien Hirst photographing decapitated heads in city morgues, from grave-robbing phrenologists to skull-obsessed scientists, Larson explores our macabre fixation with severed heads."--from publisher's description.

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Subjects
Published
New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company [2014]
©2014
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xviii, 317 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 277-307) and index.
ISBN
0871404540
9780871404541
Main Author
Frances Larson, 1976- (author)
  • Prologue: Oliver Cromwell's head
  • Introduction: Irresistible heads
  • Shrunken heads
  • Trophy heads
  • Deposed heads
  • Framed heads
  • Potent heads
  • Bone heads
  • Dissected heads
  • Living heads
  • Conclusion: Other people's heads.
Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Larson (An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World) delves into the grotesque yet wildly fascinating topic of decapitation. She begins her story by offering an explanation as to why disembodied heads have maintained such novelty over time: it's because a severed head is "simultaneously a person and a thing." Beheadings have always captivated, as can been seen from the popularity of historical tales, such as the exhumation and decapitation of Oliver Cromwell (his head then circulated a series of private collectors and was finally buried—the exact resting place a secret), and the frequency of contemporary internet searches for the decapitation of prisoners by terrorists. Larson mentions three contexts in which heads, sans body, have been prominent: in soldiers' homes as war trophies, in the market that was created to sell shrunken heads to European travelers, and in science labs that conduct research on heads. Perhaps more relevantly for most readers, severed heads have been a noteworthy feature of many museums and religious iconography. Larson's lively, conversational tone turns these morbid objects into something more meaningful than a mere expression of the macabre. (Nov.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Explores the dark and varied obsessions of Western civilization with decapitated human heads, from collectors of shrunken heads and trophies of war to phrenologists and cryonicists.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A leading anthropologist presents a history of humanity's macabre obsession with decapitated heads and skulls, exploring cultural practices ranging from shrunken head collections to Madame Tussaud's model of Robespierre's guillotined remains. 25,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Larson exposes the history of decapitation and related practices. The first few chapters present a cultural history of head-hunting for American shrunken heads, trophy heads gathered as a part of warfare, and the bloody history of decapitation through execution by the state, revolutionaries, or occasionally by unknown parties even in the present day. The middle chapters turn to symbolic and metaphorical roles of heads, including artwork alluding to decapitation, heads as religious relics, and the study of skulls. The final three chapters explore scientific uses and psychological detachment with respect to heads: dissection of cadaver heads in medicine and early brain research, consciousness after decapitation, cryopreservation after death and the strange evidence of personality change in heart transplant patients, and the distance needed to document violence or examine death, as in the author’s own project. Annotation ©2015 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A serious and seriously entertainingexploration of the dark and variedobsessions that the “civilized West”has had with decapitated heads andskulls.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

The human head is exceptional. It accommodates four of our five senses,encases the brain, and boasts the most expressive set of muscles in the body.It is our most distinctive attribute and connects our inner selves to the outerworld. Yet there is a dark side to the head’s preeminence, one that has, in the courseof human history, manifested itself in everything from decapitation to headhunting.So explains anthropologist Frances Larson in this fascinating history of decapitatedhuman heads. From the Western collectors whose demand for shrunken headsspurred massacres to Second World War soldiers who sent the remains of the Japanesehome to their girlfriends, from Madame Tussaud modeling the guillotined headof Robespierre to Damien Hirst photographing decapitated heads in city morgues,from grave-robbing phrenologists to skull-obsessed scientists, Larson explores ourmacabre fixation with severed heads.