Harvard’s Book Bound in Human Skin Will Make Your Skin Crawl

Buffalo Bill, the notorious serial-killer introduced in Thomas Harris’ novel The Silence of the Lambs (and portrayed in the 1991 film adaptation) who skins women to make clothing may be real after all! Okay, he isn’t actually real (though he was inspired by a multitude of real-life serial killers, but that’s a whole other article).


His name, along with his iconic lines, flashed through my mind, however, after I learned that Harvard University is the home to a book bound in human skin. Eww. Tell me more. 


The book, Des Destinées de l’ame, or Destiny of the Soul, was written by French novelist and poet Arsène Houssaye in the mind 1880’s and has been stored at Harvard’s Houghton Library since 1934. 


skin book

Des Destinées de l’ame Via NY Times


A note found inside the book claimed that the it was bound in human skin in order to reflect the text’s themes of the human soul after death. The skin was reportedly harvested from the back of an unclaimed female mental patient who died after having a stroke. Well….at least she wasn’t living at the time.


The university confirmed that the cover is made of human flesh by using various techniques, including peptide mass fingerprint (PMF) which tests the subjects proteins. 


Though it may seem peculiar to us in the modern age when that wouldn’t exactly be tolerated (though again….when was the last time you checked?), it was reportedly common in Houssaye’s time. 


The process of binding a book using human skin, also called anthropodermic biblipegy, has taken place as early as the 16th century. As brutal as it may seem, the process was often used in a sentimental way. For example, it could be used to memorialize a deceased loved one and given to a family member. It’s not for me, but to each is his own.






Featured Image Via Alamy