A Cultural History of the Human Body

Book - 2013
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WW Norton
An eye-opening, spine-tingling, heartwarming tour through the extraordinary history and secrets of the human body.
The human body is the most fraught and fascinating, talked-about and taboo, unique yet universal fact of our lives. It is the inspiration for art, the subject of science, and the source of some of the greatest stories ever told. In Anatomies, acclaimed author of Periodic Tales Hugh Aldersey-Williams brings his entertaining blend of science, history, and culture to bear on this richest of subjects.In an engaging narrative that ranges from ancient body art to plastic surgery today and from head to toe, Aldersey-Williams explores the corporeal mysteries that make us human: Why are some people left-handed and some blue-eyed? What is the funny bone, anyway? Why do some cultures think of the heart as the seat of our souls and passions, while others place it in the liver?A journalist with a knack for telling a story, Aldersey-Williams takes part in a drawing class, attends the dissection of a human body, and visits the doctor’s office and the morgue. But Anatomies draws not just on medical science and Aldersey-Williams’s reporting. It draws also on the works of philosophers, writers, and artists from throughout history. Aldersey-Williams delves into our shared cultural heritage—Shakespeare to Frankenstein, Rembrandt to 2001: A Space Odyssey—to reveal how attitudes toward the human body are as varied as human history, as he explains the origins and legacy of tattooing, shrunken heads, bloodletting, fingerprinting, X-rays, and more.From Adam’s rib to van Gogh’s ear to Einstein’s brain, Anatomies is a treasure trove of surprising facts and stories and a wonderful embodiment of what Aristotle wrote more than two millennia ago: “The human body is more than the sum of its parts.”

Baker & Taylor
"Combining science, history and culture, this guide to the human body explores every aspect of our anatomy from ancient body art to modern-day plastic surgery and discusses why some people are left-handed and why some cultures think the soul resides in the liver. 15,000 first printing."

Book News
Hugh Aldersey-Williams is an English journalist with a penchant for science writing. Here, his subject is the human body. As a science writer, he's an active investigator--participating in medical dissections, drawing in art classes, donating blood, interviewing people--but he writes little about himself and never quotes conversations. The book keeps attention on the subject, pleasantly displays the author's erudition, and ranges easily across Western countries and topics in the arts, humanities, and medicine. The writing style is skillful. For the most part, the author gives interesting information piecemeal, with a chapter on the hand, the heart, and so on. The book's perspective is that of a liberal English gentleman (shrunken heads are for fun, European Great Master paintings are for serious, discussions of sex are long on concepts and short on organs), with a few quirky ideas of his own (retired doctors prowl art galleries rating depictions of body parts for accuracy, the existence of sex change operations makes people more sexually conservative). However, his quirks are opinions, not misrepresentations of fact, and the book's tone is too good-natured to invent villians. This book is exactly what it sets out to be: an engaging, educational, and fun read by a writer who knows how to check facts without making the story any less enjoyable. It's a vital skill, and Aldersey-Williams is a real improvement on Jonah Lehrer. This book will travel equally well to the armchair or the beach, entertain a wide range of readers who enjoy nonfiction, and leave most readers knowing something they didn't know before. Annotation ©2013 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

Combining science, history, and culture, explores every aspect of human anatomy from ancient body art to modern plastic surgery, discussing why some people are left-handed and why some cultures think the soul resides in the liver.

Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 2013
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780393239881
Branch Call Number: 612 ALDER
Characteristics: 294 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Apr 12, 2016

Any book that purports that James Harvey discovered pulmonary circulation is a work of dishonest colonial Whitewashing or lazy intellectualism. As the kids say, "FAIL". History didn't suddenly restart in 1600 in Europe after a millennial hiatus.


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