“A delightful and informative look at nudism throughout history and around the world.” —The Seattle Times
People have been getting naked in public for reasons other than sex for centuries. But as Mark Haskell Smith reveals, being a nudist is more complicated than simply dropping trou. “Nonsexual social nudism,” as it’s called, rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century. Intellectuals, outcasts, and health nuts from Victorian England and colonial India to Belle Époque France and Gilded Age Manhattan disrobed and wrote manifestos about the joys of going clothing-free. From stories of ancient Greek athletes slathered in olive oil to the millions of Germans who fled the cities for a naked frolic during the Weimar Republic to American soldiers given “naturist” magazines by the Pentagon in the interest of preventing sexually transmitted diseases, this book uncovers nudism’s amusing and provocative past.
Coated in multiple layers of high SPF sunblock, Haskell Smith publicly disrobes for the first time in Palm Springs; observes the culture of family nudism in a clothing-free Spanish town; and travels to the largest nudist resort in the world, a hedonist’s paradise in the south of France. He reports on San Francisco’s controversial ban on public nudity, participates in a week of naked hiking in the Austrian Alps, and caps off his adventures with a week on a Caribbean cruise known as the Big Nude Boat.
Equal parts cultural history and gonzo participatory journalism, Naked at Lunch is “an absolute hoot” (Los Angeles Magazine) and “a total joy” (Meghan Daum).
“Smith puts on his reporter’s hat and takes off everything else as he explores the history and sociology of nudism.” —Los Angeles Times
Throwing both caution and clothing to the wind, novelist and journalist Haskell Smith (Heart of Darkness) strikes a winning combination of personal and journalistic narrative as he investigates the appeal of nudism. Though he's not above making more than a few jokes about swinging genitalia, Haskell Smith does an admirable job of keeping the narrative respectful as he conducts numerous interviews with naked people to find out why they like nudism so much. Its origins are murky: nudism has been a popular pastime since the late 19th century, and Haskell Smith charts its evolution from nudist clubs in the 1920s to the estimated $440 million industry it is today. Haskell Smith visits nudist colonies and nude beaches, embarks on nude hikes, and even takes a nude cruise. What he expected to be salacious quickly becomes boring but ultimately refreshing, from both a physical perspective and an emotional one over time, everybody's body issues seem to dissipate. Haskell Smith's empathy and genuine interest in nudism and its appeal make this account both informative and entertaining. He's usually laughing with his subjects rather than at them, and the arc of his education on this topic makes for a witty and insightful read.