on 13 June 2016
I bought this book to give me added insight in to English 18th century social life. Having read recent book purchases on the life and works of Hogarth and Rowlandson whose satirical works of art I particularly like I became increasingly interested in "street life" in those heady days. What did ordinary people in our growing towns and cities actually get up to on a daily basis ? What interested them or provided entertainment for them in their often mundane and hard lives ? Entertainment that today we would regard as cruel or ghoulish............bear and bull baiting, cock fighting and the gruesome spectacle of the dog fighting contests and the rat pits were common place. Similarly, circuses and " freak shows" were popular spectacles and Jan Bondeson's book "Freaks" gives a very detailed and fascinating insight into individuals blighted with genetic disorders which drastically affected their physical appearance. Affected people from all walks of life are included and the book looks at why and how they were regarded in those times. The 18th century was an age of rapid change in rural life and in the growing towns and cities. This book provided a window for us to look at those changes and how it affected not only the unfortunate individuals living with their deformities and I suppose their shocking appearances but also the general public living out their lives in an increasingly enlightened society. A very absorbing read.
on 14 March 2012
Extreme hairiness, giants, a human colossus, dwarves, horned people, Siamese twins, gluttons and more, ranging from the 16th to the 19th century. In a few cases comparisons are made with recent examples. The book is by no means an exhaustive overview of the subject. The choice of the author is a personal one, leaving out famous examples like the elephant man or Tom Thumb, whose stories were told by others before. It is a collection of freak stories, primarily focusing on the public careers of the protagonists and how they were seen by their contemporaries. They were real celebrities in their time. The Pig-Faced Lady of Manchester Square is included although she is a mere legend. Some chapters give a medical explanation to the afflictions (not always easy to follow for a layman, but never too long). All in all I had mixed feelings reading this book. In a few instances the detailing of the medical background gets in the way of the story; in the chapter of the Biddenden Maids, the story gets bogged down in antiquarian details; the summing up of public appearances can get boring sometimes. In between, there are many good stories to be found here, however, and that is why the book deserves a good rating. The 118 black-and-white illustrations are grouped in the middle of the book and are a good help to imagine the strange world of the book's subject.
on 5 September 2010
I have read many "freak" books in my day, from the short and sweet to the medical journals, this book although given high praise, which i am still not sure to why, is probably one of the dullest i have ever read.
Maybe it is aimed at people who know little about "freaks" but I was already aware of most of the stories, and the most intresting are the "dog faced" people. Many of the oddities in the book should really be labeled as early urban legends and should not really be in a book about freaks as there is very little proof of these "freaks" existing, which the author actually admits throughout the chapters. which begs the question why use one of these unproven "freaks" as the title of your book.
The choice of illustrations are also rather pointless as there are amazing pictures out there, and the ones chosen are of minor interest.
As for the chapters themselves, they go on for far too long with little information about the medical reasons except for the conjoined twins chapter when this author must thing every one reading must have a P.H.D is medicine, also that we all speak fluent French as throughout the odd french sentence is thrown in with no translation. Which really reaks of protention.
I would say if you would like to read about freaks as a guilty pleasure this is not the book for you at all, if you want to know about medical reasons this is also not the book for you- if you want to know about what some doctors of the time thought of such "freaks" you may find this of minor interest.