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Whatcha-Readin’ Wednesday: How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully FamousHave you ever read an obituary and wondered how or why that person died? Or even if something could have prevented their untimely death?

Many famous people throughout history would have lived far longer if they had only been privy to the marvels of modern medicine. How They Croaked introduces you to nineteen men and women from history and provides details on their often horrible and nowadays preventable demise.

For instance, did you know that….

  • George Washington, our first President and an esteemed man, died a horribly excruciating death. He had an infection in his mouth and the “doctors” tried many experiments to try and “ease” his pain. During that time period, they believed in bloodletting, draining the body of “bad blood”. Doctors drained over 80 ounces (an adult male only has 192 ounces) and so he wasn’t getting any oxygen-rich blood to his heart and lungs. Then they covered him in “remedies” that dehydrated and poisoned him. Had it been invented, all he would have needed to recover would have been a dose of antibiotics! (and a doctor with clean hands!)
  • President James Garfield didn’t die directly from his assassin’s bullet but rather from a horrible infection caused by the ten doctors who stuck their dirty hands into his body trying unsuccessfully to find the bullet?
  • When the Secret Service was first developed, it was to protect the Treasury ($$) not the presidents. Three of the four US Presidents who have been assassinated (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley) did NOT have bodyguards. Robert Lincoln (Abe’s son) coincidentally happened to be with each of those three men at the time of their assassinations.
  • Galileo lived twice as long as most other adults of his time. He died at age 77 of lead poisoning. During his lifetime, water wasn’t safe to drink so he drank wine. Lead was added to the wine for flavoring and it was also cured in containers lined in lead. His middle finger is on display at the Museum of the History of Science in Florence, Italy.
  • Almost everyone in Edgar Allan’s Poe’s life (mom, siblings, wife, foster mom) died of tuberculosis. No wonder his writing was full of such gloom and despair. He may have died of rabies.
  • Madame Tussaud had time to sculpt Marie Antoinette’s decapitated head out of wax, as it lay in the grass next to her body, waiting for the gravediggers to return from lunch.


Why I picked up the book: Who doesn’t love this cover? I had read small sections to “sell” the book to students but hadn’t ever sat down and read the whole thing.

Why I finished it: The book has something for everyone. It is funny, gross, and creepy. It is perfect for read-alouds with kids/classes as each person’s section is only a half dozen pages. !” I’m very interested to pick up the author’s next book How They Choked: failures, flops, and flaws of the awfully famous.

I’d give the book to: Because it is a quick read with illustrations, short chapters, and a carefully selected facts section, it is perfect for boys of any age and reluctant readers. The introduction says it best, though. “If you don’t have the guts for gore, don’t read this book.” It could be paired with John Fleischman’s Phineas Gage or for older audiences, Mary Roach’s Stiff: the curious lives of curious lives of human cadavers.

If you prefer to listen to the audio version, I had a mom tell me that her tween boys loved it!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars (I really liked it!)

Want to read it? Click here to place the book on hold!

Review by Jenn, YA Librarian (View all my Goodreads reviews)

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