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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 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.”


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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 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.”

30 review for Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    As the Guardian's cover endorsement points out, this is a cultural history rather than a science book, really. It talks about art a lot, as well as discussing cultural attitudes to various bodyparts and some references to scientific understanding of them (though, honestly, not that much; I didn't really learn anything). It missed out some cultural stuff I would consider significant -- e.g. the Egyptian disregard of the brain in embalming. It's mostly just anecdotal; entertaining, but not very en As the Guardian's cover endorsement points out, this is a cultural history rather than a science book, really. It talks about art a lot, as well as discussing cultural attitudes to various bodyparts and some references to scientific understanding of them (though, honestly, not that much; I didn't really learn anything). It missed out some cultural stuff I would consider significant -- e.g. the Egyptian disregard of the brain in embalming. It's mostly just anecdotal; entertaining, but not very enlightening. Science book of the year it is not.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chalchihut

    On the top of the cover it says "The Sunday Times Science Book of the Year". Never trust the covers, especially the bestsellers or some newspapers' choice titles. I can say that this book is rather a historical and cultural book which is related to the parts of the human body. Therefore I didn't experience what I expected, nevertheless I really enjoyed the content of the book. Could it have been a better book? Maybe. In the end, human body and how it has been seen throughout the centuries isn't a On the top of the cover it says "The Sunday Times Science Book of the Year". Never trust the covers, especially the bestsellers or some newspapers' choice titles. I can say that this book is rather a historical and cultural book which is related to the parts of the human body. Therefore I didn't experience what I expected, nevertheless I really enjoyed the content of the book. Could it have been a better book? Maybe. In the end, human body and how it has been seen throughout the centuries isn't an easy subject to evaluate in a fluent storytelling. Maybe the book lack many information, but I believe that it had to focus on certain things in order to keep the content in order. Not a must read, but I recommend this book to those who are eager to learn more about their bodies through history and art.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Meghan Moriarty

    What a cool concept! What an utter disappointment! This book was poorly written, and even more poorly researched. I suppose I should have been warned in the introduction, page xxv, when the author said “I have tried to minimize my use of [Greek and Latin] words, many of which were baffling to me as I set out. I won’t use ‘anterior’ where ‘front’ will do, or ‘femur’ for ‘thigh bone.’” This should have been a bigger red flag than it was. Not only did Aldersey-Wiliams seem to have little background k What a cool concept! What an utter disappointment! This book was poorly written, and even more poorly researched. I suppose I should have been warned in the introduction, page xxv, when the author said “I have tried to minimize my use of [Greek and Latin] words, many of which were baffling to me as I set out. I won’t use ‘anterior’ where ‘front’ will do, or ‘femur’ for ‘thigh bone.’” This should have been a bigger red flag than it was. Not only did Aldersey-Wiliams seem to have little background knowledge in anatomy and physiology, but he seemed to refuse to learn. “Femur” is such a normal everyday word, it hurts my heart thinking there are such scientifically illiterate people that they would consider this foreign. For an anatomy book, you’d think Aldersey-Williams would learn a little, but alas, the class he refers to obsessively where he got to look at cadavers and then sketch them, did little to familiarize him with the parts of the body. One of my favorite instances (page 68) is where he refers to the zygomatic arch (cheekbones) in an illustration as the eye socket. If he had so much as looked at a labelled picture of a skull, it would have been obvious he was very incorrect. His lack of knowledge in anatomy is glaringly apparent when he says “major organs may seem to have a distinct nature and yet are multiply integrated with other parts of the body. ‘Bits in between’, meanwhile, such as the diaphragm, say, which separates the organs of the chest from those in the abdomen, may be unfairly neglected because they are not seen as forming suitable discrete units.” Maybe Aldersey-Williams took a piss-poor anatomy class. Or maybe he forgot that the diaphragm is not just a divider, but perhaps the most important muscle (and often described as a discrete unit just like your other skeletal muscles) when it comes to breathing. I have not taken a single anatomy or physiology class that neglected the importance of this muscle and I surely didn’t need a class to remind me of its significance. He also lacks in the physiology knowledge department. Or just science in general. Just read this from page 52: “In life, we tend to think the bones are heavy and the flesh is light.” Who thinks that? Why would anyone think that? It’s stupid. Why would we have heavy bones if we have to move them? It doesn’t make any sense. Birds have lightweight bones because they have to bring those bones with them when they fly and wow, it’s easier to fly when you’re not dragging along some metaphorical dead weight. And his explanation: “This is because the latter moves while the former must be moved. We think of muscle as active and bone in contrast as passive and therefore inert and resistant to our will.” What kind of backward logic is this? I cannot fathom the mental gymnastics he had to perform to reach this conclusion. Another attempt at physics on page 222: “In fact, to a good, approximation, it is the case not only that all comparably fit humans, but also all species capable of jumping, from the flea to the elephant, can jump to roughly the same absolute height of a meter or so. This is because both the energy needed to produce the jump, generated by the muscles, and the potential energy gained at the top of jump are directly proportional to the animal’s mass, ultimately making this mass, or size, an irrelevant consideration.” Huzzah there’s the conservation of energy. But this statement clearly ignores biomechanics and reminds me of my physicist father’s favorite punchline: “Consider a spherical cow.” Now perhaps if he were to back up this statement with some data and more of a proof, he might have an argument. But clearly there are species that routinely jump higher than this. Maybe I could let this slide if he were to make an argument that for each individual species, and didn’t try to compare one species to another, mass theoretically (or “in physicsland” as my professor used to say) cancelled out and didn’t correlate to height of a jump, then maybe I could let this slide. And now for some ignorance in biology and physiology. Here’s one from page 135: “Most animals have two kidneys like us, but some have more, and even the human embryo actually develops three pairs of kidneys about a month after conception, with only the last of the three becoming functional organs.” He’s so mixed up it’s painful. While I’m not sure of any animal that has more than two kidneys (and not some other organ like the mesonephros that has a similar function but less advanced than mature human kidneys), I wouldn’t put it past that there are some that exist. The least he could have done is give an example. But the painful part about this is his confusion with the stages of development with actual mature kidneys. There are three stages of development (pronephros, mesonephros, and metanephros). Not three pairs of kidneys and while they may slightly overlap as one develops and the other goes through apoptosis, they don’t all exist simultaneously and they are definitely much less complex than a fully developed kidney. There’s another example of inaccurate statements made on page 210 about the development of sex organs and how we are by default females, but I’m going to let it slide because that was the view held for a long time. However, there is substantial evidence now that developing both mature female and male sex organs is an active process and it is nowhere near as simple as being female by default. While there are some fun, anecdotal stories that have to do with anatomy’s place in past cultures, I would never repeat them to anyone. I know little about history and I fear his research into these stories is just as poor as his research on his scientific inserts. Furthermore, a large part of his book is trying to impress people with the art class that allowed him to sketch cadavers (not shock or awe-invoking to a group of people hat are already interested in anatomy and decided to read a book with an anatomical drawing on the back cover), listing idioms that reference a body part and then explaining their meaning, and trying to come to conclusions that really just sound like a 9th graders English paper they BSed the night before. (Page 43: “Indeed, it seems doubtful whether a conspicuously fat person could be elected as a national leader today, even in countries where obesity is epidemic among the electorate.” LOL!!!! This was in the chapter “Flesh” where he ponders the importance of fat and how history has viewed fat and what the biological importance of fat for pages and yet fails to connect that fat tends to be positive when food is scarce and negative when food is plentiful because fat wow stores energy and you don’t produce fat if you don’t eat. Wow what a difficult concept). Sometimes, I wasn’t sure if his editor even existed. Perhaps they were too busy to read this, or maybe they couldn’t understand what he was saying and chalked it up to him just being too smart and didn’t edit it. But there were so many sentences that just didn’t logically make sense. It seemed like he had two ideas going and copied the first half of one idea to the second half of another. Try this one on pages 143-144: “Menstrual blood is not a universal taboo, as the anthropologist Mary Douglas demonstrates with reference to the Walbiri people of central Australia, whose women are subject to brutal physical control by their husbands, apparently obviating the need for more nuanced rules of sex pollution.” What? How does the brutal physical control by the husbands of the Walbiri women demonstrate that menstrual blood isn’t a universal taboo. And I tried so hard to find a consistent definition of “sex pollution,” but failed. If anyone wants to enlighten me, please do. From what I gathered, pollution and purity in this sense refer to established rules. Purity meant the lines and boundaries in a society were clear. So a very patriarchal society would be more pure. Buuut, I definitely found contradicting definitions and as I said, I don’t really understand it. Aldersey-Williams doesn’t even attempt a further explanation. That’s the first, last, and only mention of Mary Douglas, the Walbiri people, and sex pollution. Here’s another goodie (page 34): “So where is the human holotype? For that matter, who is the human holotype? Oddly, there isn’t really one. This is partly because holotypes are designated requirement for species described since 1931, and partly because there is no scientific ambiguity about membership of the human species. (Racists might disagree, but their objections arise in large part because different races can interbreed, which demonstrates our common humanity).” This totally sounds like one of those sentences that people will skim over, say “hmm… that sounds smart. I don’t really understand it, but whatever” and move on. I implore you to try and makes sense of this. What are the racists disagreeing with? I think he’s saying that racists disagree with the “there is no scientific ambiguity about membership of the human species” because they’re racists and think some races are superior to others. Sure, that makes sense I guess. But then why would their objection stem from the fact that different races can interbreed and wouldn’t demonstrating our common humanity kind of defeat the point that racists try to make? Someone please explain what he is trying to say. Overall, this book was full of inaccurate science, poorly written sentences, and way too much about William-Aldersey and not nearly enough about cultural history. I got Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body, not Anatomies: Hugh William-Aldersey Sees a Cadaver, Has an Existential Crisis, and Discovers He’s a Little Curious About His Body (But Not Enough to Do Any Thorough Research). I’d honestly be embarrassed of this book if I wrote it. It reads like the caffeine-fueled, heavily-procrastinated, admittedly not researched enough, all-nighter, due-tomorrow-do-tomorrow essays I wrote while in college. (I can only hope that his other books he’s more well known for such as Periodic Tales and The Most Perfect Molecule are better written and researched).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Shannon Montalbano

    I'll have to admit I was a tad disappointed. I thought the symbolism on every aspect of the human body was interesting, but I thought it would break down the mechanisms more. To a point, I enjoyed it, just not what I was expecting. I'll have to admit I was a tad disappointed. I thought the symbolism on every aspect of the human body was interesting, but I thought it would break down the mechanisms more. To a point, I enjoyed it, just not what I was expecting.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    Author Hugh Aldersey-Williams had a real success with his chemical elements book Periodic Tales, so was faced with the inevitable challenge of what to do next. He has gone for a medical tour of the body, intending to reach into the bits we don’t normally find out about to uncover the hot research topics. After a quick canter through the history of the way we view our bodies he breaks it down for a bit-by-bit exploration. If I’m honest, basic biology (especially human biology) is not a topic that Author Hugh Aldersey-Williams had a real success with his chemical elements book Periodic Tales, so was faced with the inevitable challenge of what to do next. He has gone for a medical tour of the body, intending to reach into the bits we don’t normally find out about to uncover the hot research topics. After a quick canter through the history of the way we view our bodies he breaks it down for a bit-by-bit exploration. If I’m honest, basic biology (especially human biology) is not a topic that thrills me, but there is no doubt that Aldersey-Williams manages to bring out some enjoyable, quirky and interesting subjects. Admittedly some of these are covered better elsewhere – so, for instance, his brief foray into what made Einstein’s brain special can’t match Possessing Genius - but the idea that they were already performing nose jobs over 100 years ago or the weirdness of synaesthesia certainly catch the attention. I like plenty of historical context – and this book has it in spades – but I also like to see a balance of science content, and there it seems a little weak. In Anatomies we certainly get plenty of basic biology, medical aspects and cultural context, but we miss out on so much of the meaty science. By no means a bad book, but not in the same league as Periodic Tales.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lotte

    An enjoyable trawl through the body. Not an extensive biological book, but informative nonetheless. I spent a good fifteen minutes contorting my hand into a silly pose to confirm what I was reading at one point. Occasionally the author seems to enjoy his cultural references and own prose a tad too much. I also suspect he's a terrible dinner party name dropper. However, a likable read and had my reading not been rudely interrupted by the inconvenience of having to finish my dissertation, probably An enjoyable trawl through the body. Not an extensive biological book, but informative nonetheless. I spent a good fifteen minutes contorting my hand into a silly pose to confirm what I was reading at one point. Occasionally the author seems to enjoy his cultural references and own prose a tad too much. I also suspect he's a terrible dinner party name dropper. However, a likable read and had my reading not been rudely interrupted by the inconvenience of having to finish my dissertation, probably a quick one too. I'm definitely inclined to read his Periodic Tales book now.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Layne

    Overall an interesting read and not one I regret picking up; however, it seemed to lack the connective tissue usually present in well done pop-science books (Mary Roach being my favorite writer in that vein, puns intended).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    This is an interesting medical humanities text. I enjoyed reading it. I am critical of the title being misleading. It is not a cultural history. It is a Western European cultural history of the human body. This is interesting enough, but it should advertise itself as that. It barely mentions, if that, beliefs, art, and other cultural phenomena of Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, ancient Egyptians, Africans, Indians, Aborigines, etc. I recognize that this book would be entirely unwieldy, but This is an interesting medical humanities text. I enjoyed reading it. I am critical of the title being misleading. It is not a cultural history. It is a Western European cultural history of the human body. This is interesting enough, but it should advertise itself as that. It barely mentions, if that, beliefs, art, and other cultural phenomena of Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, ancient Egyptians, Africans, Indians, Aborigines, etc. I recognize that this book would be entirely unwieldy, but an acknowledgement of other ideas would not have gone amiss.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Waleed

    A rambling mess. Intermittently interesting as a cultural history, but the science is all over the place.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jo Bennie

    Aldersey-Williams takes us on a guided tour of a subject that is both earthily familiar and a great unknown to us: our own bodies. He writes fluently about the history of how our bodies have become known through science and literature, and how that understanding has changed over the centuries. He moves from introducing us to the men and women such as Galton and Hippocrates who have helped us understand the functions of the body to quoting Shakespeare who speaks a great deal about the body, as me Aldersey-Williams takes us on a guided tour of a subject that is both earthily familiar and a great unknown to us: our own bodies. He writes fluently about the history of how our bodies have become known through science and literature, and how that understanding has changed over the centuries. He moves from introducing us to the men and women such as Galton and Hippocrates who have helped us understand the functions of the body to quoting Shakespeare who speaks a great deal about the body, as metaphor, similie and curse. Aldersey-Williams also relates his encounters with a wide range of people who are in themselves experts in their field: neurologists, blood donor nurses, a professional clown, artists (conventional and tattoo), atheletes, pathologists, psychologists and many more. He relates his own experience of witnessing dissections, anatomy lessons and attempting life drawing. The book is split into three sections which gives it a pleasing and coherant structure. The first part takes 'the whole', narrating how we have historically understood and mapped the human body. He then goes on to take the parts and how we have come to understand these parts as separate with a chapter on each: head, face, brain, heart, blood, ear, eye, stomach, hand, sex, foot and skin. And finally he speaks about the future, about meeting a paralympian and how technical innovations can augment and enable our bodies to function. A real education, a sweeping introduction to the history of how we have come to our current understanding of the human body.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marion [Overdue Book Reviews]

    Thoughts while reading: (1) Interesting voice of the book. It feels like a series of well-prepares lectures. I'm enjoying it, but I also enjoy attending lectures. (2) Not as much of a scientific book. More anecdotal stories about organs or regions. V. diff from what I'm used to reading. (3) I still wish this had a spark: either funnier or more detailed or more focused on either culture or science or something. For example, the chapter on the heart meandered all over the place and touched on many i Thoughts while reading: (1) Interesting voice of the book. It feels like a series of well-prepares lectures. I'm enjoying it, but I also enjoy attending lectures. (2) Not as much of a scientific book. More anecdotal stories about organs or regions. V. diff from what I'm used to reading. (3) I still wish this had a spark: either funnier or more detailed or more focused on either culture or science or something. For example, the chapter on the heart meandered all over the place and touched on many issues that relate to that organ. It didn't really satisfy my interest, though.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kerfe

    The author considers the body and its different parts, both scientifically and culturally. He goes off on tangents of relationships (for instance speaking of tattoos when considering skin), some more interesting than others. I learned a lot, and enjoyed the journey.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Erin Britton

    In Anatomies Hugh Aldersey-Williams takes a long, hard look at the gruesome glory that is the human body. Inspired by the perplexing decline in efficiency of his bladder, Aldersey-Williams sets out to discover why bodies (or, rather, their constituent parts) work and fail in the ways they do and why said bodies remain so mysterious to their owners. In doing this, he takes the reader on an intriguing journey through the history of medicine and physiology, including a healthy dose of superstition In Anatomies Hugh Aldersey-Williams takes a long, hard look at the gruesome glory that is the human body. Inspired by the perplexing decline in efficiency of his bladder, Aldersey-Williams sets out to discover why bodies (or, rather, their constituent parts) work and fail in the ways they do and why said bodies remain so mysterious to their owners. In doing this, he takes the reader on an intriguing journey through the history of medicine and physiology, including a healthy dose of superstition and bonkers best practice, by way of literature, art and philosophy. There’s a good amount of solid science in Anatomies but Aldersey-Williams presents his explanations and factoids in a very readable fashion with plenty of emphasis on the oddities of the human condition. He considers not just how we see our own bodies but how we perceive other’s and how common (mis)conceptions about bodies have played a significant role in cultural and political life over the centuries. Anatomies is a fascinating (occasionally stomach-churning) book that manages to both inform and entertain.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I am grateful for the subtitle of this book - that this is a cultural history of the body and not a science text. I could not help but compare this book to Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis. I think the two work well in tandem - or maybe I just think that because I read them almost back to back. Aldersey-Williams work focuses on our artistic and literary perceptions of the human body. Touching on Shylock's infamous demand for a 'pound of flesh', phantom emotions from organ transplants a I am grateful for the subtitle of this book - that this is a cultural history of the body and not a science text. I could not help but compare this book to Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis. I think the two work well in tandem - or maybe I just think that because I read them almost back to back. Aldersey-Williams work focuses on our artistic and literary perceptions of the human body. Touching on Shylock's infamous demand for a 'pound of flesh', phantom emotions from organ transplants and the history of gift giving, Van Gogh's ear, the public anatomy lessons of 17th century Dutch Republic, synesthesia, the stigma associated with donating "the right" blood, under-representation of the clitoris, and ancient Egyptians disregard for the brain. I truly loved Part I of the book which focuses on the Skin and Bones. Honestly, the pages devoted to really dissecting (pun intended) Shylock's speech about a 'pound of flesh' has totally rocked my interpretation of that scene from The Merchant of Venice. A fun read about our need to make sense of ourselves.

  15. 5 out of 5

    ellis

    humorous and obviously extensively researched, but lacked coherence and seemed to jump all over. material was anecdotal, which would have been fine if it had gone into just a bit more depth. historical anecdotes also were primarily european; i was hoping for comparisons across cultures. the chapter on the sex was also painfully ill-worded for something published in 2013. the bit about bisexual people not simply liking both men and women, but liking sex more, stands out as being particularly grati humorous and obviously extensively researched, but lacked coherence and seemed to jump all over. material was anecdotal, which would have been fine if it had gone into just a bit more depth. historical anecdotes also were primarily european; i was hoping for comparisons across cultures. the chapter on the sex was also painfully ill-worded for something published in 2013. the bit about bisexual people not simply liking both men and women, but liking sex more, stands out as being particularly grating. there is also a section where he talks about the transgender experience and refers to the woman he interviews by her old name and pronouns several times. this may be how she prefers it, her case being so famous, but i do not know for sure. in any case, here's a heads up about that, for those who would be very bothered. would have preferred a "fun facts" list to this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    loonchies

    Serve its title well enough Starting off interestingly. It provides new aspects and story to the parts of body we may not realize before. Instead of talking about thing chronologically or synchronically, the author just choose the point and the story that maybe somehow related to the organ, represent it, then move on to another story. Not what I expected it to be though. Sometimes I feel like the author went too far beyond the topic, but that's acceptable. Still, there a lot of interesting and fa Serve its title well enough Starting off interestingly. It provides new aspects and story to the parts of body we may not realize before. Instead of talking about thing chronologically or synchronically, the author just choose the point and the story that maybe somehow related to the organ, represent it, then move on to another story. Not what I expected it to be though. Sometimes I feel like the author went too far beyond the topic, but that's acceptable. Still, there a lot of interesting and fascinating information. Fun to read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Book

    Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body by Hugh Aldersey-Williams “Anatomies" is an accessible book on how the body works and doesn’t from a cultural perspective. The book is full of historical anecdotes, biological information, and some interesting tidbits. The book is engaging but not as scientifically informative as I would have liked. Furthermore, even the anecdotes lack the panache of say a Sam Kean or a Mary Roach. This mixed-bag 321-page book is broken out into the following three Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body by Hugh Aldersey-Williams “Anatomies" is an accessible book on how the body works and doesn’t from a cultural perspective. The book is full of historical anecdotes, biological information, and some interesting tidbits. The book is engaging but not as scientifically informative as I would have liked. Furthermore, even the anecdotes lack the panache of say a Sam Kean or a Mary Roach. This mixed-bag 321-page book is broken out into the following three main parts: 1. The Whole, 2. The Parts, and 3. The Future. Positives: 1. An accessible book on human biology from cultural perspective. 2. An interesting topic. "This book is about our bodies, their parts, and their multiple meanings. It is also about where we draw the limits of the body, and how we are always seeking to extend those limits, never more so than right now." 3. Excellent format. The book is arranged in chapters based on significant body parts. 4. The book is full of historical anecdotes. "Leonardo was probably the first artist to cut up the human body and draw what he saw." 5. The history of the fingerprints..the man behind it. 6. The gold standard for human anatomy. Find out. 7. Interesting stories about our flesh. "Human and animal flesh are of roughly equal density, so a pound of beefsteak gives a good visual impression." 8. Even as a nonbeliever I did enjoy how the author shared biblical insights on how it relates to the human body. "Where ‘flesh and blood’ appear yoked together in the Bible it is usually in reference to burnt offerings and animal sacrifices." 9. An excellent chapter on bones. "Bones fuse because of gravity. In the effectively weightless environment underwater, the bones of whales and fish may never fuse, and so they carry on growing. Growth is so unimpeded in some cases that size is a good guide to an animal’s age." 10. Debunks some myths. 11. Gary's Anatomy is not just the title of a popular TV show...find out where the term came from. 12. Heads up..." Current medical understanding is that a severed head can remain aware and conscious until falling blood pressure and lack of oxygen causes the brain to shut down, which may indeed take quite a few seconds." The cultural impact of hair. 13. What's in a face..."One typically startling discovery is that attractive persons are more likely to be acquitted at trial." 14. A look at the brain. Functional MRIs. 15. The history of the heart. " Harvey’s discovery a little over 100 years later that the heart was a pump – a central pump, regally important in the body, but just a pump for all that – was one of the first breakthroughs to begin to persuade people that the brain was in fact more important, marking what the cultural historian Fay Bound Alberti calls the ‘scientific transition from a cardio-centric to a cranio-centric body’." 16. One of the strongest chapters is on blood. "Blood is just another tissue, after all – one of the connective tissues, so-called because it runs throughout the body rather than being associated exclusively with localized organs. But it seems the cultural barriers are greater than the medical ones." 17. So where is the "soul" located again? 18. The importance of the thumb. "Finally, there is the thumb, ‘the father of technology’, according to Raymond Tallis. It is our having an opposable thumb – meaning to say we can employ it in opposition to the other fingers – that greatly increases the capability of the hand, so that it is able to exert a wide variety of grips." 19. Interesting discussion on gender. "To this natural biological variability, we must add cultural factors. Gender refers to our social and cultural self-definition as distinct from our biological sex. Our expectation of what gender is and ought to be is shaped by culture, and one of the principal restrictions is the existence of gender in grammar." 20. Understanding our skin. "The largest organ of the human body; its colour relative to others, and our curious propensity, having declared that this matters so greatly, to ignore its real hue and settle for calling it ‘black’ or ‘white’; and above all its sheer, vulnerable, embarrassing nakedness." 21. The future of extending our bodies capabilities. Negatives: 1. The book lacked panache. It fails to sell itself as a fascinating book. 2. Just didn't share enough fascinating scientific facts about each body part. 3. The book feels rushed. The third and final part of the book was lacking. 4. Many of the stories have been rehashed before. As an example: Einstein's brain, X-Rays, 5. Poor chapter on the brain. 6. Endnotes not linked. In summary, I had high hopes for this book but was mildly disappointed. A fascinating topic but Aldersey-Williams did not live up to my expectations. Where are all the fascinating tidbits? The shocking scientific stories? That being said, the book is very accessible and does share some interesting historical anecdotes and biological information. A mild recommendation. Further recommendations: "The Universe Inside You" by Briann Clegg, "The Sports Gene" by David Epstein, "Zoobiquity" by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers, "The Last Ape Standing" by Chip Walter, "Wonders of Life" by Bryan Cox, "The Universe Within" by Neil Shubin, "The Disappearing Spoon" by Sam Kean, "Physics of the Future" by Michio Kaku, and "Bonk" by Mary Roach.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bob Beilstein

    Meh Halfway through, the social aspects of anatomy left me bored. The only reason I slogged through the rest of the book is because there were occasional interesting bits. The rest of it was tedium and well known anecdotes. Personally, I would have thought a free copy overpriced. Very disappointed.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jessie

    A very interesting concept for a book, and full of interesting tidbits. However, the organization and length of those tidbits makes it a little bit difficult to read. Stories I want to know more about are stopped short, moving on to the next with abrupt transitions.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mia

    An absolutely fascinating book, dense as lead but easy to read, packed full of bodily details both romantic and grotesque. But I do suggest reading the negative reviews for this book for some needes fact checking. Still, I enjoyed it very much.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Lost interest in this one halfway through it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christine Rapley

    I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating book about a topic most of us know little about. Every chapter was engaging. A book that you can learn a lot from.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    A bit too random for me and not enough science.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Frederic bourdin=professional impostor Ron Mueck=artist "Menstrual blood was feared as a reminder of the uterus, the organ of female fertility that might so easily form an alternative basis for worship to the elaborate system erected by the male priesthood." Frederic bourdin=professional impostor Ron Mueck=artist "Menstrual blood was feared as a reminder of the uterus, the organ of female fertility that might so easily form an alternative basis for worship to the elaborate system erected by the male priesthood."

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Wells

    So I'm no connoisseur of non-fiction, but I'm not opposed to a good dose of unadulterated knowledge every now and then. I like books, I like history, I like stories. I love to get a well-educated and experienced person talking and just sit and listen. I love to hear about the things these people think and feel, and what learning they have to impart to me. No surprises, lecture-style courses are my favorite at my university. Reading Anatomies was like listening to really good lecture, a la the typ So I'm no connoisseur of non-fiction, but I'm not opposed to a good dose of unadulterated knowledge every now and then. I like books, I like history, I like stories. I love to get a well-educated and experienced person talking and just sit and listen. I love to hear about the things these people think and feel, and what learning they have to impart to me. No surprises, lecture-style courses are my favorite at my university. Reading Anatomies was like listening to really good lecture, a la the type of talking and listening described above. It was all the best parts of listening to a good talker talk mixed with the quirky details of watching true crime shows and Discovery Channel documentaries. I laughed, I was stricken with somber realization, I nodded knowingly, I ooh-ed and ahh-ed, I was sometimes slightly nauseous. It was actually wonderful, which I was not expecting in the slightest, especially from a non-fiction book that I won in a First Reads contest I only entered because the title and cover looked sleek. The book started with an over view of what the author, Hugh Aldersey-Williams, knew and wanted to know and understand about how we think of the human body. He wanted to fix the gaps in his personal education, and so he set out to explore the history of us, of our bodies, as we see it throughout world societies. Like a simple diagram used to teach children body parts in kindergarten--altogether now, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes!”--Aldersey-Williams looks at the whole body, Blood, Flesh, Bone, and Organ (Brain, Eye, Stomach, and etc), and explains how we knew they work, how we thought they worked, and all the bits in between. There's a really great section at the beginning where Aldersey-Williams talks about body parts in Shakespeare that was especially interesting. Other sections that struck me as just fantastic were the histories of composite photographs, early criminology, and the prospect that ideal human beauty is excessively average. Granted, there are parts of this book that are not for the faint of heart. There is some graphic descriptions of human dissection and frank discussions of cannibalism. But. If you don't mind the gore, this book is interesting, fun, and lovely to read. It's no read-in-one-evening novel, but it's a great way to pass time on the bus, or to make a coffee break more mentally invigorating. In any case, if you have a interest in cultural studies or the human bodies, pick this book up ASAP.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nithya Ezhilchelvan

    I was expecting more... more of what, I'm not quite sure. Some parts were interesting but overall I was bored and I wasn't expecting to be bored. I much preferred the author's book on the elements (Periodic Tales). I was expecting more... more of what, I'm not quite sure. Some parts were interesting but overall I was bored and I wasn't expecting to be bored. I much preferred the author's book on the elements (Periodic Tales).

  27. 5 out of 5

    Byron Edgington

    Very engaging, informative even fun reading about our body, the entity that encapsulates us, keeps us (relatively) free from harm, disease-free and durable until the allotted three score and ten. Many items of minutiae uncovered by Mr. AW's deep research--the history of circulation of the blood, for example. Was it Harvey? Or was it a Muslim physician 300 years prior? A bit of cultural bias perhaps? Fascinating stuff appears, such as the seemingly insignificant detail that grave robbers snatchin Very engaging, informative even fun reading about our body, the entity that encapsulates us, keeps us (relatively) free from harm, disease-free and durable until the allotted three score and ten. Many items of minutiae uncovered by Mr. AW's deep research--the history of circulation of the blood, for example. Was it Harvey? Or was it a Muslim physician 300 years prior? A bit of cultural bias perhaps? Fascinating stuff appears, such as the seemingly insignificant detail that grave robbers snatching bodies for early surgeons were careful to leave personal property behind in the grave, as this belonged to the family of the deceased, and its taking could land them in jail. Another detail is in the form of a question: when blood banks are desperate for donations, why do we toss all that blood product away from a recently dead person? Cultural bias here again; the transfusion-desperate public wouldn't hear of taking such blood, though an hour prior to the donor's death they'd welcome it. Good insight, I thought. If the reader is interested in obscure details about the human body and our wearing of it, this is your book. The only criticism I might have of the work is that toward the end it bogs down a bit, discussing some of the religious and political aspects of bodies Vs the science of dissecting them. Plus, the content dealing with life extension to 1,000 years or more might be a book in and of itself. Anatomies could be a useful guide for those wishing to donate their remains to science, or for those wishing nothing of the kind. Byron Edgington, author of The Sky Behind Me, a Memoir of Flying and Life

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    Hugh Aldersey-Williams is an engaging writer, here tackling what is essentially a look at the human body as we humans have seen and perhaps should see the body. He comments liberally on famous works of art and brings in many cultural and historical touchstones. Those desiring a more purely biological dissection of the body (although we do indeed get some meaty dissections) may find this altogether too arty. Being well down with arty, especially when it happens to meet up with some of the real da Hugh Aldersey-Williams is an engaging writer, here tackling what is essentially a look at the human body as we humans have seen and perhaps should see the body. He comments liberally on famous works of art and brings in many cultural and historical touchstones. Those desiring a more purely biological dissection of the body (although we do indeed get some meaty dissections) may find this altogether too arty. Being well down with arty, especially when it happens to meet up with some of the real data, I must say I don't have that problem, and I was pleasantly surprised by the flow of Mr A-W's writing, which made this book at most points a pleasure to read. I do agree, however, with some who feel that this was perhaps a bit of a rush job to capitalise on the relative success of Periodic Tales, which I note, without having yet read it, seems to have been tarred with the same brush: engaging but a bit jumbled. There is definitely jumble here, as there seems not to be within the human body itself, so I can appreciate that there could be a sense of disappointment in readers more in search in hard info than the changing viewpoints of human culture with regard to certain organs and elements. It also runs out of energy a little about two-thirds of the way through. That said, it's nice to see people writing about science who do not subscribe to the separation in the "Two Cultures" and who are willing and able to allow the wonder of science to meet up with the wonder of written expression and make some music together.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Having read his book Periodic Tales and really enjoyed this, I was really looking forward to this one. The book is split into three sections, The Whole, The Parts and The future. The first section looks at the the history of anatomy, from the grim ways that early medical studies were undertaken on cadavers that were acquired from executions or other dubious means. There are lots of gross things in this part, I won't enlighten you completely, but it was a grim and sordid task. He also gets to meet Having read his book Periodic Tales and really enjoyed this, I was really looking forward to this one. The book is split into three sections, The Whole, The Parts and The future. The first section looks at the the history of anatomy, from the grim ways that early medical studies were undertaken on cadavers that were acquired from executions or other dubious means. There are lots of gross things in this part, I won't enlighten you completely, but it was a grim and sordid task. He also gets to meet his first dead body. In the second section he goes on to look at separate significant body parts, from the head to the feet, and lots of the bits in-between internal and external. There are lots of facts and anecdotes in all the separate chapters, and he does describe his first dissection of a pigs eye. The final section is on the future of the human body, and the enhancements that are now available from replacement limbs to medical advances that keep people alive. He writes in an engaging style, and assumes that if you have picked this up then you will not be a doctor or biologist. The facts are presented clearly, and he does participate in events from watching dissections to sketching nudes for the chapter on skin. Well worth a read if you have managed to avoid biology since school!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Anatomies : A Cultural History of the Human Body by Hugh Aldersey- Williams is sort of a survey of the cultural background of the body. That means that the subject matter can stretch very far. I enjoyed reading about the topics that he picked out. The book reads smoothly and I think is best when to read a few chapters at time so you can have "sink in" time. I had the unusual circumstance of reading about MRI machines while I was waiting to have a brain MRI. So the facts were doubly fascinating t Anatomies : A Cultural History of the Human Body by Hugh Aldersey- Williams is sort of a survey of the cultural background of the body. That means that the subject matter can stretch very far. I enjoyed reading about the topics that he picked out. The book reads smoothly and I think is best when to read a few chapters at time so you can have "sink in" time. I had the unusual circumstance of reading about MRI machines while I was waiting to have a brain MRI. So the facts were doubly fascinating to me. I had taken several course in college related to this subject. Some facts were familiar to me but others were not. I managed to get through life without realizing that the right lung has three lobes and the left only six. But there are many entrancing facts to learn from this book. 1. Ever wonder where Shakespeare got the expression of a pound of flesh? 2. Why we have fewer bones in our body than when we are born? 3. What part of the brain was Einstein missing? I highly recommend this book for all who are curious and those who love learning about our bodies. I received this book as a win from FirstReads but that in no way determined my thoughts or feelings in this review.

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