Anatomies : A Cultural History of the Human Body


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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 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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  • Hardback | 320 pages
  • 160.02 x 236.22 x 30.48mm | 589.67g
  • WW Norton & Co
  • New YorkUnited States
  • English
  • black & white illustrations
  • 0393239888
  • 9780393239881

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"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." "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 "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." "Engaging... An elegant cultural history of the human anatomy... Provocative." -- Lynne Maxwell "This book is crammed with curiosities... Enjoyable and unpredictable." -- Tony Miksanek "A magnificent exploration of the myths and mysteries of human anatomy... Aldersey-Williams writes like a latter-day Montaigne." -- Thomas Wright

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About Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Hugh Aldersey-Williams is the author of Periodic Tales, The Most Perfect Molecule, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, In Search of Sir Thomas Browne and Anatomies. He lives in Norfolk, England.

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