This Book's Cover Holds a Fascinating, Gross Secret. It'll Make Your Stomach Turn.

by
Lauren Burgoon
Watch out, that old book you're reading might just be covered in human skin.

They say not to judge a book by it's cover. But what if that cover is made of human skin?

Harvard University just confirmed a book in its library collection is indeed covered in human skin. The 19th-century book is apparently covered in the skin of a mental patient who died from a stroke. 

The book, "Des destinees de l'ame," by Arsene Houssaye had a note about the binding, but only recent tests led Harvard researchers to declare it "is without a doubt bound in human skin." Harvard researchers at one time thought they had three human skin books on their hands, but tests whittled it down to just this one.

While it sounds disgusting, there's actually a name for this: anthropodermic bibliopegy, the practice of binding books in human skin. It wasn't all that uncommon in the 19th century, when bodies of criminals, mental patients, homeless people and other "undesirables" were often claimed by scientists and others to use at their whim. 

The people trafficking these books weren't shy about it either. The inscription about the book's cover reads (emphasis ours, graphic description by the doctor who owned the book): 

"This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin. A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering: I had kept this piece of human skin taken from the back of a woman. It is interesting to see the different aspects that change this skin according to the method of preparation to which it is subjected. ..."