Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...
I'm pretty unclear on the fiction to non-fiction ratio going on in this book (mythical creatures notwithstanding). However, having endured several semesters of the history of science and cranked out more than one term paper on curiosity cabinets, I can safely say that almost all of this could have been true.
Scientists, doctors, surgeons and whatnot by necessity were talented artists (if you don't believe me, check out Galen and Vesalius' circulation diagrams). "Resurrectionists" (aka grave robbers and/or body snatchers) were requisite suppliers for surgeons and medical students throughout the 19th century (see also The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London). And, what's more, the natural historians' "cabinets of curiosity" did branch off into the very un-P.C. "freak shows" and circuses.
Dr. Spencer Black's tale involves all of the aforementioned elements at their darkest and most horrifying. Convinced that mythological creatures were evolutionary offspurts, and that he could re-unlock the key to past lives in living creatures, Black's descent into madness took quite a few twists and turns. The book is short and full of illustrations, so I don't feel all that guilty not offering much in the way of a summary.
Sidenote: As someone who cried during the Fox and the Hound and was left catatonic after seeing White Fang (to say nothing of Old Yeller), there were definitely parts of this that I had to skim.