Monday, January 23, 2012

Nonfiction at its Quirkiest – A Review of How They Croaked

Georgia Bragg’s mid-grade book, How They Croaked; The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous (Walker & Co.) is the perfect example of how a writer can take a common subject and give it a twist. Think you know everything there is to know about icons like Columbus, Mozart and Washington? Think again. Bragg brings you the gruesome, gory, yucky truth about their last days.

Each chapter gives you a nifty mini biography so that anyone can appreciate the tragic deaths that are the focus of this book. But that alone is not the hook, it is also the warning she gives – “If you don’t have the guts for gore. Do not read this book” – likening the reading of How They Croaked to watching Bambi’s mother die over and over again, but worse!

Although appreciative of the famous achievements of each of the 19 famous people, Bragg does not hold back the snarkiness when it comes to the medical professionals who supposedly cared for these kings, queens and geniuses, leaving nothing to the imagination as she describes barbaric treatments such as leeching, cupping using a scarifactor with spring-loaded blades, drilling a hole into Beethoven’s stomach and then plugging it up with rags, and the ten doctors who took turns poking their dirty fingers into the wound in James Garfield’s back to locate a bullet that would not have been fatal if it had been left in place.

Kids, especially boys, will love every garish detail, as well as the cool facts, sarcastic how-tos, and terrifying trivia at the end of each chapter. Kevin O’Malley’s black and portraits, boarders and spot art are a perfect quirky compliment.

How They Croaked definitely goes on my list of “Books I Wish I Wrote.”


  1. This was really a great book-- I nominated for the Cybils awards and am so glad it made the shortlist. It has been quite the hot commodity at my school library!

    1. Thanks for the comment. Next week I'm going to write about another scary subject - TV.