An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious Collection
by Simon Winchester
Photography by Nick Mann
Available October 9, 2012
“Skulls have exerted for scores of thousands of years an almost inexplicable power over the human imagination. Perhaps no other biological entity retains such a grip on human psychology as does this assemblage of hollow bone, this thing of domes and socket and jaws and of mysterious interior passageways and canals.” — from the Introduction
The inimitable Simon Winchester (author of The Professor and the Madman, Krakatoa, and Atlantic) plumbs the depths of an enduring fascination in SKULLS: An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious Collection (October 9, 2012). In this captivating and visually stunning book, Winchester explores an array of more than 300 animal skulls, from the aardvark to the red-bellied piranha, including notes about the specimens’ most interesting features, behaviors, diets and taxonomy. Winchester writes about the science and pseudoscience of skulls, including the great hoaxes of history such as the Piltdown Man and the once popular and highly questionable practice of phrenology. Winchester also mines the rich tradition of the skull in religion and art, from Leonardo da Vinci to Georgia O’Keefe and Damien Hirst, and its use from ancient times to the present as an icon of death and a symbol of power and warning–including a surprising project sponsored by a U.S. government agency that considered erecting monolithic heads, Easter Island-size, to warn future visitors away from a repository of toxic nuclear waste in Nevada. And, pulling back the curtain, Winchester shares the fascinating story of the man who amassed much of the collection: an obsessive Englishman named Alan Dudley who, in the pursuit of his passion for skulls, was once arrested and charged with breaching international law against trade in endangered species. In SKULLS, brilliant storytelling combines with beautiful imagery and the result is a near-perfect survey designed for browsing, amusement, the indulgence of macabre fascination and, of course, learning.
Simon Winchester is the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman, Atlantic, The Map That Changed the World, Krakatoa, A Crack in the Edge of the World, The Man Who Loved China, and more than a dozen other books. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, National Geographic, Lapham’s Quarterly and elsewhere. Mr. Winchester was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Elizabeth II in 2006. He lives in New York City and Massachusetts.