Bragg, Georgia. How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous. Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley. New York: Walker, 2011.
I have no doubt that students will like this book, but I found it annoying for several reasons. First, I have a problem with information books that fail to clearly cite sources for stated facts, and especially with those that share misinformation! This book does both, and I am seriously pondering whether to insert an errata statement or simply withdraw it from our collection. Additionally, I don’t care for the sly, “wink, wink” tone of the author aside-riddled text that tries too hard for irreverent humor.
The book would have benefited from inline attribution of sources for the more unfamiliar content, and there is quite a bit of that. For example, the section on Cleopatra points out that history has always ascribed her death to suicide by asp then goes on to contend that the actual cause of death was poisoning by jabbing herself with a poisoned two-pronged hairpin. I for one would like a footnote, in-line note, or simply an in-text credit, e.g., “So and so states that her death was actually caused by….” Without easy to locate source credits, readers cannot be sure the author didn’t just imagine tidbits like Poe’s death being attributed to rabies. I also found it very inappropriate that an unexplained question mark was inserted after Lee Harvey Oswald’s name in the list of Presidential assassins on p. 133. I understand the allusion to the controversy surrounding the Warren Commission Report and the lone killer versus the grassy knoll theory, but Bragg’s audience will not.
Lastly, the book contains at least one glaring, factual error. I didn’t catch it in my first, casual reading, but when a friend (thank you, Chris Stofel!) pointed out there was an error on p. 39, I reread and, sure enough, there it was. Bragg states that Henry VIII was buried in an unmarked vault within St. George’s Chapel on the Windsor Castle grounds, which is true. She then says, “Then Queen Victoria refurbished the chapel in 1813, and Henry VIII’s unmarked vault was found completely by accident.” The date is correct. The chapel was refurbished in 1813, but Victoria was not yet queen. In fact, she was not yet born! Victoria was born in 1819, making it quite difficult for her to take credit for the 1811 restoration. 1811-1820 was the Regency period of the British monarchy. George III was king, but was incapable of ruling due to insanity and so was king in name only. The kingdom was ruled by George’s son, the Prince Regent, who would become George IV after his father’s death in 1820. This is a blatant error, and one that should have been caught by the author or editor long before How They Croaked hit library shelves!
StreetReads Rating = Wrong Turn!