book beginnings on Friday: Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.


This one is eye-catching, no? The first few lines follow suit:

Josiah Wilkinson liked to take Oliver Cromwell’s head to breakfast parties. The broken metal spike which had been thrust through Cromwell’s skull at Tyburn, 160 years earlier, provided a convenient handle for guests to use while examining the leathery relic over their devilled kidneys.

It gets a little more gruesome from here, as you might expect, but gratuitous gore it isn’t. It looks (early on) to be a thoughtful examination of the heads in our history, from an anthropological standpoint. And assuming you’re up for, you know, severed heads – I think it will be quite good.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

4 Responses

  1. So … a companion to Mary Roach’s “Stiff,” then? 🙂

    • Well, I haven’t read Stiff, although it’s been on my shelf for YEARS. But I think they share some elements but do different things as well: this is just the heads, in many contexts. Companions? Quite possibly.

  2. no, I’m not buying this one; have you investigated the mental state of this author? I know it predates immediate history of events out of ISIS, but there are plenty of generally contemporary examples from 21st century U.S. misadventures in the middle east to make this of questionable taste; it was okay for Medievals so it’s okay for us?

    • Nowhere does she say what is or isn’t okay for anybody. It’s a work of anthropology, and covers a pretty diverse range of cultures and time periods, including the present day. As far as the author’s mental state, I see that she’s an academic anthropologist in England.

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