How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous

I have a confession to make. I always avoided Terry Derry’s grim Horrible Histories series, even though they definitely had a lot of fans. They were just too dire for my taste. I did enjoy Elizabeth Levy’s America’s Horrible History series and Nick Arnold’s Horrible Science series, but both of them were much less gruesome. Therefore, I really wasn’t looking forward to reading How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, which is filled in the horrific details of the deaths of historical figures, exposing the facts that usually gets left out of most history books.

In the introduction, Georgia Bragg makes it clear that this book is not for the squeamish, and she it correct. As she writes, “…reading about their last dying days will make your toes curl. But these stories will also fascinate you and make you realize how lucky you are to live in a world with painkillers and X-rays and soap and 911.”

Sprinkled with bits of gallows humor and wry wit, this book is both funny and sad. If you can get past the revulsion of some of the stories, you will find interesting history. Did you know that Columbus was pretty much forgotten for 300 years after his death? His role in the discoveries was not realized until his log books were revealed in the 1800’s. I also didn’t know Marie Antoinette was likely suffering from cancer when she was executed.

In the backmatter, Bragg includes a chart of the connections that occur between many of these famous people, which is both enlightening and entertaining.

Although parts will definitely tickle your funny “bone,” How They Croaked is only for those with a strong “stomach.” This book would be excellent for students considering a medical career as well as students of history who don’t mind (too much) reading about the suffering of others. The book has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category.

Shirley at Simply Science has a great review of this book

Proseandkahn reviewed the audio version

Reading level: Ages 10 and up
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Walker Childrens (March 15, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0802798179
ISBN-13: 978-0802798176

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