Flesh for Thought at Harvard

Harvard Flesh Books

One of the books at Harvard University claimed to be bound in human flesh. (Photo courtesy of roadtrippers.com)

by Jade Hanley

Shakespeare was the first to coin the term “a pound of flesh,” but Harvard is now taking the expression to a new level.

Harvard University’s library has over 15 million books, but three in particular are causing a stir amongst the rest. These books do not line the same shelves as the other frequently read book. Like right out of Harry Potter, these three books are hidden in the restricted section of the library.

If you’re wondering what’s so special about these three books, it might be the material they are bound in: flesh. The question at this point becomes, what kind of flesh?

In 2006, an article was written about the three Harvard books, including an emailed interview with Jack Eckert, who was the reference librarian at the Countway Library Center for the History of Medicine. This included a description of what Eckert thought each book was made out of.

According to Eckert, as reported by Thecrimson.com, in one of the books, “Metamorphoses,” a footnote on the inside cover states the book was “bound in human skin.”

Binding books in human skin is called Anthropodermic bibliopegy and dates back to the 17th century.

It didn’t take long before the web exploded with accusations and blog posts over what, and whom, the books were made of.

A week later, the official Harvard Library website answered a question to a student regarding the flesh books. The librarian stated, “One of the three [books] has been conclusively proven NOT to be bound in human skin.”

We can confirm that at least one of the books has been tested and found not made out of human skin, but rather, sheep skin. This, however, does not excuse the other two books.

At this moment, there is no news whether the other two books have been tested at all. It is interesting to think that if they tested one book, why would they not test the others, and, if so, why would they not release the results of the other books?

Harvard isn’t the only university farming flesh books. The libraries at Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania are also rumored to contain books bound in human flesh.

Anthropodermic bibliopegy may be in libraries all around us. We just have to keep in mind that we can never judge a book by its cover.