"Several years ago three books in Harvard’s expansive library came under scrutiny for having strange looking leather covers. Upon further inspection, it was discovered that the smooth binding was actually human flesh and in one case was home to skin harvested from a man who was flayed alive.
Using human skin to bind books became popular during the 17th century and the practice became known as Anthropodermic bibliopegy. Back then doctors and other medical professionals would use the flesh of cadavers that they had dissected to bind anatomical textbooks.
According to The Harvard Crimson, without extensive genetic testing, Harvard librarians still do not have the “foggiest notion” of how many volumes wrapped in human hide exist throughout the system, says Director of University Libraries Sidney Verba ’53. But they have identified three such volumes in the Langdell Law Library, Countway Library of Medicine, and the Houghton Collection. The three books range in content from medieval law to Roman poetry to French philosophy.
Accessible in the library’s Elihu Reading Room, the book, entitled Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias… looks old but otherwise ordinary. Delicate, stiff, and with wrinkled edges, the skin’s coloring is a subdued yellow, with sporadic brown and black splotches like an old banana. The book’s 794th and final page includes an inscription in purple cursive:
“The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Mbesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace.”"