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The Famous Meet Gory Ends In 'How They Croaked'

Mar 12, 2011 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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Georgia Bragg is the author of the middle-grade novel Matisse on the Loose. She lives in Los Angeles.

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How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous is a new book we really needed. Author Georgia Bragg has gathered the gory stories behind the last days of 19 famous figures, all in one cleverly illustrated book.

Of course, it is not a book for the fainthearted. One's first reaction when reading it — as was the case with Weekend Edition host Linda Wertheimer — tends to be, "gross!" But as Wertheimer says, "Perhaps that's the point of this delightful and disgusting sliver of history." She spoke with Bragg about her macabre collection and why we can't look away when it comes to famous deaths.

Bragg opens the book with a warning: "If you don't have the guts for gore, do not read this book."

When asked whether "little kids" have the appetites to read about disgusting deaths, Bragg says, "My target audience is around 10 to 12 to older. We might as well meet them where their interests are and it might get them more interested in history and other parts about these famous people's lives."

Bragg says several times in the book that modern treatments could have prevented some of the terrible deaths that she chronicles. For example, George Washington.

"Antibiotics would have saved George Washington at that time. His doctors drained half the blood out of his body. They gave him the blister beetle treatment. They are ground up poisonous beetles, that when they are placed on the skin, the skin blisters up and then pops."

"It is sad, but it is a bitter comic truth, that we all are going to be heading that way," she continues. "I don't tell these stories to frighten kids. I'm trying to turn history upside down and see if we can get some of the connections of culture and science and medicine together in a different way."

As for what the book will accomplish, Bragg says that she hopes that her nauseating stories will turn young readers on to more historical explorations.

"Hopefully it will make history sticky," she says. "It's icky, but hopefully it will make it sticky, too."

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