"PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Brown University's library boasts an anatomy book that combines form and function in macabre fashion. Its cover -- tanned and polished to a smooth golden brown, like fine leather -- is made of human skin.
In fact, a number of the nation's finest libraries, including Harvard's, have such books in their collections. The practice of binding books in human skin was not uncommon in centuries past, even if it was not always discussed in polite society.
At the time, the best libraries belonged to private collectors.
Some were doctors who had access to skin from amputated parts and patients whose bodies had gone unclaimed. In other cases, wealthy bibliophiles acquired skin from executed criminals, medical school cadavers and people who died in the poor house.
Nowadays, libraries typically keep such volumes in their rare book collections and do not allow them to circulate. But scholars can examine them."