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Review: How They Croaked for NONFICTION MONDAY

HOW THEY CROAKED: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
by Georgia Bragg (
Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley
March 2011 ~ Ages 10-13
$17.99-Hardcover ~ ISBN: 978-0-8027-9817-6

One of my very favorite nonfiction titles this year is Georgia Bragg’s book HOW THEY CROAKED: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous. If you have the stomach to get past the concept of gory dying and bizarre medical treatments, you’ll find How They Croaked to be a humorous, fascinating read.

Georgia Bragg employs a surprisingly light tone that draws the reader into considering:  the total contributions of these 19 people’s lives, the condition of living with bizarre medical treatment at their times, and the inevitability of their deaths. This beautifully illustrated title is filled with gory details of how medicine has changed in treating people over the centuries. Nineteen famous personalities were chosen who led passionate, hardworking, unforgettable lives and ended up dying in distinctly unglamorous, nasty and gory ways.

“Every kid knows how Abraham Lincoln was killed, but do they know that George Washington expired from a sore throat? Or that Beethoven died from lead poisoning and his doctors drained his stomach using something resembling a backyard garden hose?” (Publisher description)

Author Georgia Bragg was interviewed on NPR Weekend Edition by Linda Wertheimer, who called HOW THEY CROAKED “…a delightful and disgusting sliver of history.”  Listen to the full interview here.

Many bloggers receive books from publishers and publicists. Sometimes we receive paper sketches of stories, uncorrected advance proof’s, ARC’s (advanced reader copies), pdf files, links to author websites, publicist press kits, video book blurbs, and then finally the finished copy. With so many titles coming in so many formats, it’s hard to balance when we write about a title.

  • If you write about a book from an ARC, there could be substantial changes between it and the finished product.
  • If you fall in love with an ARC too early and immediately write a review, you are telling readers about titles they cannot even order yet.
  • If they’re in a district like mine that doesn’t allow backorders or ordering of titles before they are published, then the blog reader is frustrated with having to wait to order a title you review six months in advance.
  • If you wait until the title is published, you risk becoming just one more voice in the blogosphere talking about a title.

I have watched the development of this title from uncorrected proof to beautiful finished project. For this title I waited too long to get the review up, but I loved it and I didn’t want to finish it. I wanted to write about it, but with a fresh angle. I didn’t want to be just another blog on a blog tour, but to contribute something.

It’s available now for purchase and How They Croaked is on my list of must have’s for every middle school collection this fall. The dramatic artwork adds to the design of this book and draws reluctant readers in to turn the pages. Students and teachers have been fascinated with this title every time I pull it out. Boys cannot keep their hands off and I have chased them down to get the copy back just to share with you.

I compared my uncorrected proof with the finished project. At the end of every chapter biography, there is a two-page spread of trivia  sparked by deathly details of the person’s demise. Most of the differences I found between ARC and finished title involved those two-page spreads and I spent quite a bit of time pondering these.

Sometimes the changes were cosmetic with the final product being condensed and laid out in a more readable style. Most of those design changes seemed obvious (after I saw the revision). The chapter on Julius Caesar cleared up the mathematical calculations of leap years but removed a humorous author quip.

Lists were cleaned up, redesigned to fit better on pages, and updated with a world-wide focus of diversity. For example, the original list of “famous people who were imprisoned or captured” (Cleopatra, Christopher Columbus, Pocahontas, Elizabeth 1, Galileo Galilei, Marie Antoniette, and Napoleon) was expanded to include Nelson Mandela, Daniel Boone, and Richard I (the Lionheart).

The list of “famous gout sufferers” expanded to include Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx, and Theodore Roosevelt. The list of “famous last words” added five additional quotes. The “list of phobias” doubled but still omitted Pinaciphobia (katastichophobia) – the fear of lists. It shows that everyone keeps learning and how important these drafts and edits are.

I just keep learning new things every day! The spread with directions for leeching with Do’s and Don’ts is sure to appeal. The directions for Cremation 101 include cool facts. The finished copy also includes an extensive list for further reading and surfing of each of the 19 biographees. Finally, at the end of the lists was one fascinating link to:

FIND A GRAVE Go check it out and search for famous people!

With Kevin O’Malley’s illustrations complementing Georgia Bragg’s humorous, yet thoroughly detailed descriptions, How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous will be one of the most popular titles you add to your middle school collection.

I must confess I took both my uncorrected proof and the final book with me to write in a friend’s establishment with free wi-fi. While there, I had several men reading the book and talking about it. These grown men were so fascinated that they intend to go to the bookstore to buy their own copy of How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous.


  1. Thanks for hosting today! I have a review up of Weird Sports over at A Patchwork of Books:

    A Patchwork of Books

  2. My NONFICTION Monday submission is a bit different; it is a video but on a topic I think any of us concerned about children’s literacy should share with as many people as possible.

    Thank you for hosting!
    Carol Rasco

  3. Looks like an interesting book–something sure to grab a young reader’s attention!

    Today at Lori Calabrese Writes, I review Bugs By the Numbers:

    Thanks for hosting!

  4. For Nonfiction Monday I have Meerkat by Anita Ganeri.

  5. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

    For Nonfiction Monday I reviewed A Call for a New Alphabet.

  6. Hi Diane,
    Thanks for this wonderful and thorough review. I was hoping the book would be entertaining to kids and adults so I love hearing that grown men were fascinated by it! It’s amazing (and lucky for me) that this information wasn’t already compiled in a book before.
    thanks again,
    Georgia Bragg


  1. […] have the guts for gore, do not read this book.” But if you’re interested in trivia and interesting stories about the deaths of the historically famous then I think you’ll be quite entertained by this book. It’s a lite, fun […]