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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2011
I randomly came across this book on one of my regular 'new title' hunts. What attracted me to it primarily was the grand title, 'The Empire of Death' coupled with the shroud like black cover with gold embossed border and typography.

The book is beautiful primarily because it understands the interest of the reader - the morbid, Giger'esque underground palace atriums lined with the bones of thousands of human beings. There is a reason why the phrase: "a picture is worth a thousand words," and this publication strikes a very delicate balance between double spreads, full and half page photography of various elements of these strange skeletal constructions, whilst providing in-depth history and annotation very cleanly presented alongside it.

A must have for those fascinated by culture, human behaviour, baroque-religious iconography and quality publication design.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 September 2013
I have visited some of the places described in the book myself.
So when I saw this book I was not merely interested in it,
but also intrigued as to how the author would deal with the subject of these
"Death-worshipping" places.
I need not have worried - as I was positively surprised to find that the book is written not
only for the knowledgeable "connosseur" in this subject matter, but also for the kind of
person who might only come across these "gruesome", but none the less
very "elegant" tourist attractions, by chance.....

One minor drawback was the very small print, which for my taste could have been just that
little bit larger, hence only 4 ****

If one can and wants to deal with the small print issue, I highly recommend this book.
....and ...there is always the vast amount of photos to enjoy!!!
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on 14 January 2013
This is a fabulous looking book with wonderful photos accompanying the text. Try leaving it on your coffee table and see how many of your guests are tempted to pick it up. I had read an excerpt from this in Fortean Times and was impressed with the author’s research and he doesn’t disappoint in the full text.
He gives us an overview of the creation of ossuaries and charnel houses and their decline. Some have vanished but are still legendary and their creation are a useful reminder that previous generations lived with death far more closely than we do and did not find these places morbid or grotesque. Traditions associated with skulls, such as painting them with foliage or names, are also discussed and also the patterns in which they are arranged. There is a short section on preserved and displayed remains and also the Bling skeletons. These are the ones in the Fortean Times excerpt and these are bejewelled and bedecked skeletons to be found in obscure Eastern Europe churches. Impressive creations indeed. However, many have vanished over the centuries and the author also provides full details on these.
Well known sites such as Sedlec and the Paris catacombs are also discussed at length and also the Naples cemetery of which I had previously heard of but enjoyed reading more on its history. A useful gazetteer is included and I discovered that there were more ossuaries in the UK than I thought and one in the City of London.
The photographs are excellent and justify the book’s price and gave me a useful insight into the world of ossuaries and charnel houses.
However, there was one quibble. It was the small, Gothic print which rendered some of the text difficult to read and also the technique of printing onto a dark background which had the same effect.
For those who might consider the subject matter morbid, I can only say that reading about death always makes me feel glad to be alive and that it’s not how you die but how you live and what you do with your life that matters.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2013
An incredible book, bought for a friend but I will get one too as I want to see all these ossuaries in the world!
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on 4 July 2013
The book is great, first saw it at a Wellcome trust exhibition and its well worth buying for the history as well as the quite remarkable pictures. Only one quibble with this, the edition I received was mis-printed and had three pages of pictures with japanese text on them. For £20 quid its not something I would return it over, but it does detract slightly from the book.
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on 5 January 2014
This book grabs you attention from the first page to last, its full of wonder and curiosity. Beautifully put together and nearly every page has a high quality photograph it is so informative. I was wary it would be a little morbid but it just never came across that way just a stunning book full of an interesting subject.
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on 26 November 2012
If you leave this on your coffee table I guarantee everyone will start turning the pages. The title comes from the inscription over the entrance to the Paris catacombs which hold the skeletons of some six million former Parisians !
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on 20 May 2012
this is a detailed text and image cover of a rarely reported subject. the keeping and display of bones was a vital part of our history and this text elegantly illustrates the art and reality.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2011
I bought this as a present for someone who revels in skeletons and death. There are good photographs, if a bit samey, but perhaps that might be expected. What I found difficult was the very small print and rather difficult to read type face. The gothic production doesn't really work. However if you want to know about ossuaries etc, I think you can learn a bit and it shows various ones which you might like to visit.
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on 24 January 2014
An absolutely beautiful book that is full of lovely images and information about the places featured. Great coffee table type book
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