Six years ago an improbable pairDretired real-estate developer Ira Brilliant and a Mexican-American doctor named (remarkably) Che GuevaraDgot together to buy a lock of hair that was snipped from Beethoven's head on his deathbed by a young musician. The hair, enclosed in a glass locket, passed through the musician's family, then, during WWII, into the possession of a Danish doctor who helped smuggle Jews through Denmark into safety in Sweden. When the doctor's daughter put the locket up for sale through Sotheby's in London, Brilliant and Guevara, ardent collectors of Beethoven memorabilia, pooled their resources to buy it. They acquired it for a little over $7,000. After recounting these events in detail, Martin moves on to the "newsy" last third of the book: the two collectors submitted the hair to the most up-to-date DNA analysis, with results they and their publisher regarded as so earth shaking that the book was originally embargoed, lest word of its revelations should leak prematurely. The results, however, do not seem particularly startling, though they shed an interesting light on Beethoven's artistic integrity and the cause of his lifelong ill health. For one thing, the analysts found no trace of morphine, suggesting that the composer, often in great pain, foreswore its use so as to keep his mind clear for his work. They also found abnormally high concentrations of lead, indicating that at some time in his life Beethoven may have been subjected to lead poisoning, which would account for many of his health problems, including his deafness. That's hardly enough to make a book, however, and Martin's account is padded with a great deal of repetitious material on the collectors themselves, a long passage on the Jewish escape from Denmark and familiar tales from the composer's life. Ultimately, the book comes off as a scholarly article that got out of hand.
Not a bad book, interesting to read, but somewhat unsatisfying.
There was a historical exploration and a scientific one going on around the hair at the same time--how did it get to where it was, and what can it say about Beethoven?
Unfortunately, neither of these were really completed when the book was published. While the historical one may never be done, and the scientific one will probably always have another test--it would have been nice if one had been mostly done. There was a marked development in the scientific, but the skull results were not back, and the scientific paper was not published for responses to come back.
Maybe if the big result from the tests on the hair hadn't been treated almost as an add-on to the story it would have been better. But there didn't seem to be any research into where Beethoven developed the problem in the first place--while it, again, is historical and maybe not findable, there was no evidence of trying. They had a date, they knew Beethoven's movements--at least some thought could have been put down. There certainly was enough guessing going on about how the hair had travelled--some non-brief discussion about possible vectors of ingestion would have been interesting.
I really like this type book, but it just doesn't seem like this one discovered much. Which I know it did--the scientific results were very interesting. But they were treated almost in passing in the book, and very much as a secondary to the path of the hair. Since the latter was never fully documented--close enough for guessing but some large gaps--it felt at the end like not much had happened.
The author also repeated themselves. The beginning of the book is just following the hair, as best it can, then it goes into the modern-day. But the modern-day then goes back into the past, and the registry discussing who lived where gets drug up again, and is repetative from before. And so much time dealing with so many people which ends up not directly connecting up.
I think this is an excellent draft of a book, but I think it needed a bit more work with the information it had, in presentation and organization. It really should have waited for the results of the skull tests, or at least done a better job of showing the vital clue that was found by scientific testing, rather than putting it on a secondary footing to a non-successful historical tracing.
This is the fascinating story of a lock of hair, snipped from the head of Beethoven soon after his death by a teenage musician. "How can hair be that interesting?" you might ask! I wondered the same thing. How the hair ends up sold at auction in 1995 requires a journey through history, two world wars, a remarkable little town in Denmark, and several generations of people. The organization of the book switches from Beethoven's day to modern day, then back in time again, then forward again. Because of this writing style, sometimes the author repeats himself, but I think he just wants to make sure you are "connecting all the dots." The story and details in this book are very interesting, and I am now motivated to read more books about Beethoven, as well as the young musician who snipped the lock of hair.
In 1827 as Beethoven was dying he entertained only a very select few friends. Until his passing moment he was forever the artist in his heart and mind. His body racked with pain, there was no cure.
In 1827 medicine was trial and error and guessing what to do for ailments was part of medicine. Beethoven lived a life of constant pain and many ailments.
With the snipping of hair while Beethoven was layed out for his eternal journey, by someone who could of had no idea how valuable it would become and to what extent it would tell the world of how Beethoven truely lived and died. A story is told as true as it can be ...from a lock of hair that was snipped and given as a Birthday gift.
The author wrote with clear language and flowing words, almost hypnotic at times of a man whom i never truely appreciated until i finished this book. A pleasurable wonder of a read when you think it all came about from a snip of hair placed in a locket and given as a gift.
Although this book was interesting it wasn't exactly a page turner. This book is non-fiction and follows a locket of Beethoven's Hair from his death to present day. Back in his days it was tradition to take a lock of hair from a person upon their death. It was interesting to learn about what may have actually caused the death of such a musical genius.
This is the story of a lock of Beethoven's hair which was snipped by a young composer who came to pay his respects as Beethoven lay dying in 1827. The hair is passed down for centuries and ultimately ends up with two American Beethoven enthusiasts who institute DNA testing on it to determine the probable causes of the composer's famously bad health, his deafness, and his final demise. The book is a rich historical treasure hunt and a tale of incredible revelations.