Structured like a detective thriller, this episodic book is organized around a series of visits to erudite experts and rare archives around the world—from a smelly tannery in upstate New York, to a fluorescent basement full of flayed cadavers, to Hell itself—which just so happens to be a wing of the Bibliothèque national de France in Paris ... Rosenbloom takes readers on unexpected excursions into the history of clinical medicine, the ethics of consent, and death-positivity ... Driven by an engine of curiosity, Rosenbloom moves through history at a brisk pace, bookending each chapter with excellent hooks and cliff hangers, all of which makes for propulsive reading. But Rosenbloom does lose momentum toward the end of the book, when she veers away from myth-busting and bloody histories to examine the fine print of how corpses intersect with the law ... Delightful and propulsive, Rosenbloom's measured balance of bloody thrills with historical fact and ethical nuance makes Dark Archives a titillating Halloween read.
[Rosenbloom] includes no shortage of memorable scientific minutiae and clarifications of misunderstood history ... The era of consent in medicine — including in organ and cadaver donation — is still in its infancy. Rosenbloom’s book, and the skin-bound books she discusses, compel us to reckon with that arc, and to try to bend it more urgently in an ethical direction ... Rosenbloom does not spare us the details of the methods by which skin-bound books were made, right down to the techniques of tanning, soaking and scraping the 'hides' to preserve them. At times her descriptions seem gratuitously to indulge the same morbid fascination that has long drawn people to these objects. But she finds a way to indulge that fascination without the exploitation inherent in the books’ production. Despite their gory history, Rosenbloom suggests, something draws us to behold physical proof of 'what happens when immortality is thrust upon us.'
... an engaging chronicle of a shadowy aspect of clinical medicine ... Despite the grisly nature of the proceedings, Dark Archives succeeds precisely because Rosenbloom respects the books for their research value as well as the people whose skin was used to bind them, often without their consent.