Synopses & Reviews
A witty and informed survey, Adam's Navel
is a unique brew of science, history, and storytelling that illuminates our perception, exploitation, and celebration of the human body.
Moving from head to toe in twelve chapters, Michael Sims blends cultural history with evolutionary theory to produce a wonderfully original narrative. "No part of the body lacks a story," writes Sims, who analyzes and demystifies the visible parts of the body that make up the whole-our animal form that is also a screen onto which we project our fears and obsessions. He tells of dreadlocks and Achilles' heel, of fingerprints and penis size. He discusses the history of breastfeeding, the allure of navel rings, ancient rules for shaking hands, why nature builds men and women on a female body plan, and how the evolution of our two-legged stance affects childbirth and back pain.
Drawing on evolution and the mechanics of human anatomy, along with Shakespeare, mythology, film, and popular culture, Sims creates a marvelous new lens through which to view this body that we inhabit almost unconsciously. Adam's Navel is a field guide to the landscape of ourselves.
"[A]n entertaining, witty and erudite jackdaw's nest of a book. Sims seems not only to have read everything, the trivial as well as the lofty, but to have remembered all of it. The range of reference is dizzying." John Banville, The New York Times
"[D]elightful....There's an entertaining fact on nearly every page....Sims marshals his disparate stories and facts into a cohesive whole with frequent humorous asides and poetic waxings....[R]ollicking..." Publishers Weekly
"[The book] can be opened at any page, so densely packed with fascinating information that it is probably best read in small chunks....Great fun." Kirkus Reviews
"Sims entertains us with the amazing strategies humans have devised for displaying, manipulating, and encoding our body parts....A lively and wide-ranging excursion." Bryce Christensen, Booklist
"The book is certainly entertaining but ultimately not much more; it includes little scientific examination and little about cultures beyond the United States and Western Europe. Recommended." Library Journal
An engaging tour of the human form where biology and culture intersect.
In this fascinating brew of science and storytelling, readers encounter not only accessible explanations of the mechanics of their anatomy, but also the layers of mythology, religious lore, history, Darwinian theory, and popular culture that have helped to shape our understanding of any given body part. For the human hand, we learn how the tiny nerve endings work, as well as the history of the handshake, the discovery of fingerprints, the connection between hand movement and language, and even how Proust regarded our all-important paws. And that's just the hand! There's the history of breast-feeding, the raison d'etre of tears, the art and science of lipreading, and, in Sims's discussion of the nose, Nietzsche's declaration tha this genius resided in his nostrils.
Includes bibliographical references (-327) and index.
In this amusing and brilliantly conceived book, Michael Sims introduces you to your body. Moving from head to toe, Sims blends cultural history with evolutionary theory to produce a wonderfully original narrative in which he analyzes the visible parts of the body. In this fascinating brew of science and storytelling, readers encounter not only accessible explanations of the mechanics of their anatomy, but also the layers of mythology, religious lore, history, Darwinian theory, and popular culture that have helped to shape our understanding of any given body part. A titillating and unique book, Adam’s Navel is learned and entertaining, a marvelous lens through which to study the form we all inhabit—but may not really understand.
About the Author
Michael Sims is the author most recently of In the Womb: Animals (adapted from two National Geographic Channel documentaries); he is also the author of Apollo's Fire: A Journey through the Extraordinary Wonders of an Ordinary Day, which NPR chose as one of the best science books of 2007; Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form, which was a New York Times Notable Book and a Library Journal Best Science Book; and Darwin's Orchestra: An Almanac of Nature in History and the Arts. For Penguin Classics he also edited The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel and Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief, and he is currently editing The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime. He has written for many periodicals, from the Washington Post to New Statesman.
Table of Contents
Adam's Navel Introduction: The Form Complete
Neanderthals Yawned · The Mystery of the Visible
Part One: Headquarters
1. The Not-Quite-Naked Ape
The Hair of the Prophet · The Mark of the Beast · Burn It or Bury It · Samson's Hair · A Metaphysical Operation · The Etiquette of Deciduousness
The Family Face · The Face on Mars
3. The Vigilant Eye
Flesh Becomes a Mirror · Supercilious · The Blink of an Eye · The Dreaming Eye · Close Your Eyes
4. Houdini's Wiggle
The Ear of a Thousand Li · Darwin's Points and Houdini's Wiggle · Nor the Ear Filled with Hearing
5. A Ridiculous Organ
6. The Archaic Smile
Louis Armstrong's Lips · The Badge of a Harlot · A Kiss Is Just a Kiss · The Necessary and Ambivalent Tongue · Don't Read My Lips
Part Two: The Weight of the World
7. Arms and the Man
8. The Monkey's Paw
A Free Hand · Finger Math · Rule of Thumb · Our Natal Autograph · Tobin's Palm · On the Other Hand · Playing Chess with Death
9. Madonna del Latte
Breasts and "the Breast" · Via Lactia · The She-Devil from Hooter City · Topless · The Pillow of Paradise Versus the Millstone of History
10. Adam's Navel
Untying the Knot · A Brief History of Navel-Gazing
Part Three: A Leg to Stand on
11. Privy Members
The Commotion · Vagina Dialogues · Leonardo's Intelligent Organ · Boswell's Johnson · The Senator's Body Hair
12. Our Steed the Leg
Two Legs Good and Bad · The Scarecrow Learns to Dance · The Goddess with Beautiful Buttocks · Toes with Special Properties · Pedestrian Crossing
Selected Bibliography and Further Reading