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: A Cultural History of the Human Body, 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: A Cultural History of the Human Body 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: A Cultural History of the Human Body 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."
Hugh Aldersey-Williams studied natural sciences at Cambridge. He is the author of several books exploring science, design and architecture and has curated exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Wellcome Collection.
"Fresh [and] revelatory."
– Florence Williams, New York Times Book Review
"Not so much an attempt to make sense of the body as an attempt to make sense of all the ways we've ever tried to make sense of it [...] A massive cocktail-party primer filled with anecdotal pearls."
– Leslie Jamison, New Republic
"Mixing biology, art, literature, and pop culture from the ancient past up to the present, Aldersey-Williams provides an enlightening and thoroughly engaging view of the human body."
– Publishers Weekly
"Science writing at its best."
– Matt Ridley, best-selling author of Genome
"[I]rresistible [...] . A marvelous, organ-by-organ journey through the body eclectic [...] . We have only to read Anatomies to realize that the body is still a thing of wonder."
– John J. Ross, The Wall Street Journal
"Lovely, lively [...] . Aldersey-Williams moves from the lore of the body, skin and bones to major areas like the stomach, brain, blood, head, face and sense organs, providing a rich repertoire of folklore, humor, literary and art references for each."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Engaging [...] . An elegant cultural history of the human anatomy [...] . Provocative."
– Lynne Maxwell, Library Journal
"This book is crammed with curiosities [...] . Enjoyable and unpredictable."
– Tony Miksanek, Booklist
"A magnificent exploration of the myths and mysteries of human anatomy [...] . Aldersey-Williams writes like a latter-day Montaigne."
– Thomas Wright, Telegraph (UK)