Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found

The human head is exceptional. It accommodates four of our five senses, encases the brain and boasts the most expressive set of muscles in the body. It connects our inner selves to the outer world more evocatively than any other part of the body. Yet there is a dark side to the head's pre-eminence. Severed is a serious and seriously entertaining exploration of the varied obsessions that the “civilized West” has had with decapitated heads and skulls.

Buy this book

Resources and footnotes

Reviews and comments

  • ‘Severed is lively, original, important, astounding, well-written: first class in every way.’
    The Sunday Times

  • 'Larson writes in the style of a flaneur. A connoisseur of severed heads from days spent in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford she wanders among the skulls with assurance and not a hint of a shiver, alighting on those that most interest her and arranging them in themes. The book is more of a clever, sometimes playful, conversation than a conventional study'

  • 'An elegant history… Larson surveys the severed head in art, medicine, religion and criminology; her book is packed with bizarre and horrifying stories, fascinating facts and philosophical conundrums'
    Independent on Sunday

  • 'Larson is a fine and careful writer. She is alive to the delicacy of the language needed, all the more appropriately given that much of what she describes is fascinatingly gruesome'
    Evening Standard

  • 'Engaging and readable... Severed is a fascinating curio of a history'
    The Times

  • 'A compelling historical narrative... Larson tells a very human account of an inhumane act'

  • 'Elegantly argued and grimly compelling' *****
    Daily Telegraph

  • 'An eloquent and provocative exploration of what the detached head means, one that reaches beyond today's desert atrocities into the core of human culture'
    New Statesman

  • "Frances Larson's Severed is a brilliantly original exploration of what it is to be human ... Her sinuous prose is by turns meditative and disquieting - and always utterly compelling"
    Helen Castor, author of She-Wolves

  • "Who could imagine that the seat of intelligence and learning could be preserved, abused, skewered and recycled in so many extraordinary ways? Frances Larson has written a unique history worthy of the great Roy Porter"
    Richard Fortey, author of Life: An Unauthorised Biography

  • "An ambitious book, stuffed full of curious information, intricate analysis, and grisly, gripping, Grand Guignol scenes"
    Thomas Wright, author of Circulation

  • "Frances Larson has crafted a uniquely fascinating and superlatively eloquent book on a disturbing but captivating subject. She takes our lazy notions of civilised society’s superiority over so-called primitive cultures and – so to speak – turns them on their head"
    Wendy Moore, author of Wedlock