World of Weird – Tom Adams

Illustrations – Celsius Pictor

One of the things I remember my Nan saying throughout my childhood was ‘normal is boring’. She was most certainly never boring and she didn’t want me to be boring either. An all too obvious outcome of being told this by my favourite person in the world has been that if I hear something’s weird, my brain says, ‘Ooh, tell me more’. A book with weird in the title is pretty much guaranteed to wind up on my TBR pile.

The more mysterious or gruesome the better!

Dr Leila McCreebor’s great grandfather, “the eminent explorer and philosopher Dr McCreebor”, left notebooks containing records of the curiosities he encountered in his life. Here, Leila presents annotated records of curios grouped into the following categories:

  • Artificialia – pieces of art
  • Naturalia – natural objects, animals and people
  • Spiritualis – the spirit world
  • Scelus et Supplicium – crime and punishment
  • Scientifica – scientific instruments
  • Magicae – magic
  • Morteum – death.

There are so many ingenious and bizarre finds in this book, and I’m tempted to tell you about all of them. I’m going to restrain myself, though, sharing my favourite weird thing from each chapter.

The Tempest Prognosticator (storm predictor) was the brainchild of George Merryweather. George had paid enough attention to leeches to realise that they become agitated before a storm. George transformed this fun fact into an early warning system, inventing a contraption that consisted of twelve glass jars, levers and some bells. A leech in a jar would flick a lever when agitated, which would then ring a bell. If all the bells tolled, then it was a sure sign inclement weather was on its way.

People believed that if the hand of a hanged man was severed as he still swung from the gallows, the hand would gain the powers to put people to sleep and unlock doors. The perfect tool for a burglar! The thief could even light the fingers of the hand, as if they were candles. If any of the fingers or thumb failed to light, it showed there was someone still awake in the house.

Trepanning: when you cut holes in people’s skulls for … reasons, oftentimes without anaesthetic.

I’d heard of the Brazen Bull before. A victim would be locked inside a hollow bronze bull, a fire would be lit under the bull and then the cooking alive would begin. What I wasn’t aware of previously was that the bull’s head contained tubes and pipes that “turned screams of agony into the sound of a bellowing bull, like some warped musical instrument.” The moral of this story? Don’t set your Delorean to Sicily around 2,000 years ago.

You’ve heard of having a feather in your cap but have you heard of a cap covered in teeth? Eighty eight teeth cover this 19th century London tooth puller’s felt cap.


Want revenge Roman style? Well, you’re going to need a curse tablet. Then you can call upon the gods or demons to exact revenge upon those who vex you.

Every three years, at a ritual known as Ma’nene, the Torajan dig up their dead relatives, give them a wash and dress them in new outfits before burying them again.

I really enjoyed this book and know my Nan would have loved it too. There was enough information to be interesting but not so much that readers who aren’t as fascinated as I am with all things weird and wonderful would get bogged down in details.

Celsius Pictor’s illustrations complimented the text well. They had a vintage feel to them. This made the book seem more authentic, as Dr McCreebor is said to have lived during the reign of Queen Victoria.


Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the 21st century, a scientist uncovers their Victorian ancestor’s notebook in a box. This ancestor is Dr. McCreebor – an eminent explorer, philosopher, and collector of the very strange and truly creepy.

Dr. McCreebor’s book is filled with the dark and disturbing stories he has collected on his travels around the world. And now, after over 125 years in a dusty attic, Dr. McCreebor’s writings can be read by only the bravest.

Discover the fascinating stories behind a series of objects, people, and places in every chapter. McCreebor writes from a Victorian perspective – and his descendant isn’t afraid to write notes in the margins, bringing the science into the 21st century.

Uncover Artificalia (man-made objects), Naturalia (natural creatures and beings), Spiritualis (the spirit world), Scelus et Supplicium (crime and punishment), Scientifica (scientific tools), Magicae (magical objects), and Morteum (skulls, bodies, and more). Steampunk illustrator Celsius Pictor intricately illustrates McCreebor’s sketches, maps, records, and photographs.

From shrunken heads to witches’ charms, saints’ blood to graverobbers’ remains, hangman’s salve to trepanning tools, this book is a peek into our grisly and macabre past.

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