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In addition to The Naked Man, writing this review I has a copy of Desmond Morris' most famous book, The Naked Ape in front of me. That one cost 65p in 1977 and the contrast between the two is phenomenal. This new book is bigger, arguably better, and most importantly looks brilliant on a coffee table with its glossy pages, full colour photographs and hot piece of naked eye candy on the front (NB this is the hardcover, whose cover art is netter than the photo Ciao shows). I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but its hard not to when it looks like this.
I'd not actually read The Naked Ape before I got this new one, but when I realised there was a whole series going on ( The Naked Woman came out in paperback a few years ago) I did wonder whether these two new ones were just a re-hashing of the old, neatly split up to make a book for each sex. They're not, though, because while The Naked Ape concentrated on origins and rituals for the species as a whole, the new titles are much more body specific.
The Naked Man starts at the top and works down, literally. Each chapter takes a different part of the body - ears, eyes, neck, shoulders, right down to legs and then feet - and looks in detail at how these parts have evolved in the human male, and the cultural, biological and sociological reasons behind little oddities such as moustache clubs and the ubiquitous question of why men have nipples.
What tickled me was the way Morris goes into minute detail on the more obscure body features - there's a chapter on monobrows, for example, and another on buttocks. There's one on moustaches and another on beards. You might know the 4 different kinds of male pattern baldness, but did you know there are also 4 variations of "abdominal hair patterns" as the Belly chapter tells us? This is fascinating stuff - in a things you never knew you never knew kinda way - and reminiscent of Bill Bryson's random mumblings in places.
You can tell this book has been written by someone who is passionate about the human body and keen to share his vast knowledge with the rest of the world. Who else would think to start chapters with gems such as The human nose is a proud nose, Civilisation has not been kind to male hands or The human male has rather modest ears? What you can also tell, however, is that he is trying really hard to make this accessible science, the stuff an average Joe can pick up and understand. It is jargon-light, and while it's not especially funny (or not deliberately so) it is far from dull, and really rather intriguing in places. It is perhaps not meant to be read in the way I read it - from cover to cover, not dipping in and out on specific chapters - but I enjoyed it the way I approached it none the less.
It is a fascinating and scarily in depth look at the male body and all its oddities, and I would recommend it.
This review first appeared on the Bookbag
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