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.
Sims's scattered thoughts while lying flat on his back, recovering from surgery on a dislocated cervical disc, were the origins of this delightful tour of our various body parts, from head to toe. It focuses on the outer body, and there's plenty to dwell upon with regard to eyes and ears and even the belly button. (The book's title derives from a centuries-old debate over whether Adam and Eve had navels since, not having emerged from a womb, they had no umbilical cord.) After an overture considering the skin, the book explores the head, the arms and torso, and the lower extremities (including genitals), each with its own set of colorful expressions and artistic interpretations. There's an entertaining fact on nearly every page, covering a wide range of subjects, from why human hair appears to grow after death to what French kissing was called in France (they considered it Italian). Historical sources reveal the roots of Barbie and Charles Atlas and the damage a lifetime of trumpet playing did to Louis Armstrong's lips, with some figures including Charles Darwin and 19th-century criminologist Cesare Lombroso, who claimed he could identify the physical characteristics of the criminal classes coming in for regular attention. Sims (Darwin's Orchestra: An Almanac of Nature in History and the Arts) marshals his disparate stories and facts into a cohesive whole with frequent humorous asides and poetic waxings. It all adds up to a rollicking "fantastic voyage" over the surface of the body. 15 line illus. not seen by PW. (On sale July 28)