Severed by Frances Larson


The human head is exceptional. It accommodates four of our five senses, encases the brain, and boasts the most expressive set of muscles in the body. It is our most distinctive attribute and connects our inner selves to the outer world. Yet there is a dark side to the head’s preeminence, one that has, in the course of human history, manifested itself in everything from decapitation to headhunting. So explains anthropologist Frances Larson in th...

Details Severed

Release DateNov 17th, 2014
Number of pages336 pages
GenreNonfiction, History, Science, Anthropology, Death, Historical

Reviews Severed

  • karen
    Decapitation is the ultimate tyranny; but it is also an act of creation, because, for all its cruelty, it produces an extraordinarily potent artefact that compels our attention whether we like it or not.who knew there were so many things to say about human heads?? not human minds, with all their psychological bells and whistles, nooks and crannies, but just… heads. decapitated heads. this book is an academic overview of all the ways in which se...
  • Richard
    The moral of the story is: Quit while you're a head.
  • Rowizyx
    Mi butto con questa recensione oggi, perché parlando con mio padre mi ha chiesto oggi, un po' titubante, perché e come sono arrivata a leggere un simile volume.Perché. A parte la veste grafica e il titolo inquietantemente accattivanti, devo ammettere che io sono un'appassionata di storia, e non mi tiro indietro davanti ai suoi aspetti più macabri. Complice anche un piacere un po' puerile, nel vederle, ho recuperato tutte le stagioni delle Hor...
  • Justin
    This review was written for Historical Novel Review.Housing four of the five senses, our brain, and the body’s most elaborate set of muscles, the head naturally ranks as preeminent among our many body parts. It’s no surprise, therefore, that it should have an exceptional impact on human history and psychology. It is this history that anthropologist Frances Larson explores. She focuses on the severed head’s history in the West, with chapters...
  • Grumpus
    This book is about the history and science of human heads and it is not as much of a squeamish read as I would have anticipated. It covers the history of everything from head hunters, to skull collectors, to the scientific study of the human head, to phrenology. My feeble effort to describe this book is to think Mary Roach and provide the following quote from the book, "Although they are often horrific and distressing, and embody great personal i...
  • AdiTurbo
    It took me a long time to read this book, but I'm so glad I persevered. It was so worth it. The title doesn't do this book justice. It is so much richer than just a history. It looks at all of the aspects of severing a human head - the social, cultural, psychological, political, and more and more. It is rich with fascinating insights and facts about heads as a physical and cognitive concept in our culture throughout history, and in other cultures...
  • Shannon
    Though its title sounds relentlessly gruesome, Severed is less a look at severed heads themselves and more an investigation into the human fascination surrounding them. Anthropologist Frances Larson looks at different ways humans have approached heads throughout history, including the gathering of trophy skulls during World War II, the pseudoscience of phrenology, and dissection for modern medicine.Early in the book, Larson discusses the collecti...
  • Lady Catfood
    Meh. I learned a couple interesting facts I guess. I was hoping more for a history of decapitation as punishment rather than the musings of an armchair anthropologist on the symbology of severed heads on public display throughout history. Suppose I also could have read the jacket. Not all bad though.
  • Paul Perry
    This is a book on the social history of decapitation, which is rather more widespread than you might imagine. Starting with a rundown of the indignities heaped on the (severed) head of Oliver Cromwell after his death - kept on a spike for years, stolen, traded and passed around - Larson then goes on to cover various aspects of the way Western society has viewed the act of decollation and the resultant cranium.And this is about how the Western (la...
  • Ellie
    Like many books on a niche subject, Severed explores heads from different angles, using history, culture and science. It’s split into fairly long chapters on Shrunken Heads, Trophy Heads (war), Deposed Heads (execution), Framed Heads (art), Potent Heads (religion), Bone Heads (skulls), Dissected Heads (medical) and Living Heads. It seems there’s a long-standing fascination with the human head once it’s been removed from the body.Obviously i...
  • Justine Olawsky
    C'mon, admit it: just looking at the title of this book, you are intrigued. What is it about decapitation that immediately catches the eye, quivers the lips, twitches the nose, makes us gulp with revulsion? Could it be that we just want to use our heads when contemplating their potential removal? There is a reason that militant, extremist Islamists behead their victims on camera: it compels a visceral reaction of disgust, horror, and fascination ...
  • Mike
    I ordinarily peruse the “New History” section of my local B&N just to get a sense of what’s going on in the field, and to add books to my wish list in 17th-19th century American History… I rarely actually buy anything. But I grabbed this one as soon as I saw it, and bumped it right to the top of my TBR pile- I’m very glad I did. Larson has done great work here, exploring the West’s (broadly speaking) fascination with severed heads- an...
  • Nick Spacek
    While delightfully gory, it did a wonderful job of exploring the racial and cultural dynamics behind heads. Be they shrunken heads, skulls, or trophy heads, Larson explores how European colonists affected what was, at one point, a cultural practice packed with import, and transformed it into a crass commercial exercise in butchery. The author looks into every aspect of the head, including the science behind a head leaving the neck, or the mental ...
  • Emma
    CHARMING. For, like, one of the most morbid books I've ever read, and I read a lot of morbid material. I could have read twice as much content as is in here, which is why it loses a star, but quite well done. Read it in tandem with Robert Olen Butler's 'Severed'.
  • Lauren Stoolfire
    Gruesome. Horrifying. Fascinating cultural analysis. I might have nightmares.
  • Tracey
    Continuing with my "death & corpses" nonfiction kick - I picked this up from the local library thanks to [B]Dung Beetle's [/B]recco. As you can tell from the subtitle - the book is all about the human head, primarily as separated from the body. Larson covers the material from a sociological perspective, and the scope of the book spans the globe -- discussing South Seas headhunters (and how European fascination with these sacred objects spawned an...
  • Stephen Hancock
    In 2009 David Tenant played Hamlet in an acclaimed production for the RSC. The cast was impressive: Patrick Stewart, Oliver Ford Davies, Mariah Gale. Yet the most interesting actor on stage was a polish pianist. Or rather his skull. When André Tchaíkowsky died of cancer in 1982 aged 46 he donated his body for medical science, with the proviso that his skull be donated to the RSC for use in theatrical performance. His presence in one of Shakespe...
  • Soledad P
    En este libro la autora trata de reunir la historia de las cabezas cortadas, desde que son parte de la cultura de tribus primitivas (como los jíbaros o tribus neozelandesas), pasando por trofeos de caza y guerra, desviándose por el interés científico despertado por la frenología y el estudio del cerebro en el siglo XVIII y XIX, hasta el coleccionismo, la exhibición en museos y el entrenamiento de nuevos doctores en hospitales. Sinceramente ...
  • Cindy
    Yes. I read a book about the history of decapitation. I almost didn't post this review, but I knew Barb Decker would get a kick out this book choice.I've really gone back and forth between 2 or 3 stars. There was more to cover in this topic than I ever would have guessed: South American headhunters; the history of heads taken as a "trophies" in war (including Americans taking Japanese heads in WWII - disgustingly enough); execution via the guillo...
  • Kara
    When this book is on, it's incredibly fascinating. But there's a couple of snoozer chapters that I could barely drag myself through, hence only three stars. But oh, the things I learned, including:• White collectors drove the shrunken head industry! And most shrunken heads shown in museums are fake (and often monkey/sloth heads). • Surrounded by death and bodies everywhere, American World War II soldiers often normalized their gruesome situ...
  • Rena Sherwood
    Gives new meaning to the expression, "Don't lose your head."This is a peculiarly interesting book where world history is looked at through the dark lens of separating human heads from human bodies and why. The bodies needing to be dead before the decapitation is optional. The book also addresses practical issues like how to shrink a head. Hey -- you never know when that info will come in handy.Makes a good companion for Mary Roach's Stiff and Eri...
  • John Wiedenheft
    It seems to me that this book is a combination of a journalistic endeavor and a scholarly work. The book never seems to decide which work it is. The feeling that I get is that the book is a series of essays. When the book feels more scholarly, it feels lacking in the footnotes or supporting research. However, when the book feels more journalistic, I feel that it is lacking direction. The most interesting chapters so far seems to be the chapter di...
  • Emma
    An intensely researched and thoroughly engaging read that forces the reader to address their own perceptions of mortality and identity. 'Severed' is easily one of the most fascinating books that I have read, mostly in part to its enticingly horrific subject matter. Larson explores bloodthirsty head hunters, combat trophies, skull collectors, the severed head in art and more than you could possibly imagine besides. Her tone is always deeply respec...
  • Andrew
    It's a fascinating book, but I went in expecting a bit more levity, which it does not deliver. For a book about decapitation, it takes itself very seriously....I feel like a terrible person for having written that last sentence.Also, I listened to the audiobook version, and the reader mispronounces a fair number of words, which is incredibly irritating.
  • Jo
    Whilst a book about severed heads might sound a bit odd and gruesome, this was actually a great piece of social history with a very unique theme. Larson talks about such topics as decapitated heads, heads taken as trophies in war and shrunken heads. More interesting than I expected.
  • Meghan James
    I expected this book to read as a chronology of curiosities, but it's much more coherent and thoughtful than that. It's a comprehensive look at the practice of decapitation within cultural contexts - and yet it's not at all dry! This is anthropology at its most engaging.
  • Anne
    3.5 starsA bit front-loaded with the most gruesome/macabre chapters at the outset, but still extremely interesting and delightfully gross, much like myself.Chapter on trophy heads v aspirational.
  • Alyssa Shapland
    Absolutely fascinating book on the history of severed heads. I'm an archaeology major, so this may be more interesting to me than other people, but it's not just about dead people. It's actually a study of humanity and the ways in which we justify killing others, such as in war or as the result of a criminal act on the part of the condemned. It's a history of the ways we tried to study ourselves through measuring skulls and trying to type them ba...