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A History of the Breast

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  257 ratings  ·  32 reviews
In this provocative, pioneering, and wholly engrossing cultural history, noted scholar Marilyn Yalom explores twenty-five thousand years of ideas, images, and perceptions of the female breastin religion, psychology, politics, society, and the arts.

Through the centuries, the breast has been laden with hugely powerful and contradictory meanings. There is the "good breast" of
Hardcover, 331 pages
Published June 7th 1999 by Knopf (first published January 28th 1997)
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Eric Rasmussen
First, I must qualify this review. In reading this book I was hoping for something entertaining and engaging, or something that offered interesting anecdotes, historical facts, people, or situations. That is definitely NOT what this book is. It is actually more of a history of the depictions of breasts in poetry, art, and propaganda, and even then, the book is focused at least as much on a feminist analysis of these texts as it is on the presentation of historical facts/stories. It is told large ...more
this fabulous book should be required reading for anyone who has or is interested in breasts.
This is an absolutely *excellent* book, a comprehensive masterpiece of nonfiction that gracefully explores the historical, cultural and political interpretations of the breast and, by extension, womanhood, from the beginning of time until now. Clearly, Marilyn Yalom is a well-researched historian and an engaging storyteller. This is such a good book, I wish I had written it!

Chapters of the book cover "The Sacred Breast," "The Erotic Breast," "The Domestic Breast," "The Political Breast," "The P
Marilyn Yalom relies heavily on art history and literature to extrapolate the varied meanings of the breast in Europe and North America. The first three chapters are largely chronological and the latter are thematic, exploring breats in politics, psychology, medicine and the commercial realm. The text jumps around specific moments in history--14th century paintings of Maria lactans giving way to the eroticized breast in the 16th century, which was followed by the politicized breast in the 18th c ...more
Erika RS
Yalom presents us with an engaging look at the history of the breast. The arrangement is roughly chronological, but she breaks away from the straight chronological presentation to divide the chapters thematically, subsequently exploring the breast as sacred, erotic, domestic, political, psychological, commercial, medicalized, and liberated.

To a large degree, the story of the breast is the story of women. Thus, if you've read much along those lines, much of that will be familiar. Even so, I foun
I wish that humanity-at-large would grow up re: perspective of female bosoms. Appreciated this book's thoughtfulness and humorous touch.
Adrienne Kiser
This book was interesting, but it expanded upon knowledge I already had rather than teaching me anything new. My primary complaint is that when the book hit the modern era (modern relative to the book itself, which was published in 1998) it left anecdotal evidence at the station and hopped right on board a speculation train. The best example I have of this is the author's treatment of nipple rings - take the following quote:

". . . the symbolic meaning of the nipple ring draws from both conscious
I will start by saying that this is an excellent book. Its authoritative, clear and concise, and a good example of historically mature works being published for the public at-large. It draws from myths, art history, diaries, religious works, newspapers, etc to paint a vivid image of how the “breast’s” role in society has changed over the millennia. I’ve read some reviews that complained that the author drew her own conclusions- that’s what history is. No one ever wrote “I painted the breast thi ...more
Mary Ann
An entertaining and informative look at the cultural history of the breast in Western society, from the mother goddess cults to modern commercialization and fetishization. A fascinating portion of the book deals with the use of the breast for political purposes, such as the French Revolution's daringly bare-breasted "Marianne" figure as contrasted by the armored, asexual Britannia of Great Britain or the U.S.'s Grecian-draped Columbia, who was apparently edged out in favor of Uncle Sam and the s ...more
A very interesting and wide-ranging book, covering all sorts of religious, esthetic, political, philosophical, economic, sociological, medical, psychoanalytic, and other understandings of the (female) breast throughout Western history.

Because the book was published 12 years ago, the narrative voice is now almost quaint: It's a vision/version of feminism that has been advanced from even in the short time span of the past decade. For instance, the author's dislike of body piercing now sounds not
Mel Mollick
It's more than what it appears to be. It's a great look at how women's bodies have been used as objects of power-- both for and against women themselves.
John Carter McKnight
Yalom delivers what the title promises: a (solely Western) cultural history of the female breast from the Neolithic onward. Her final chapters, on the 1970s to mid-90s, are weak: she's clearly more comfortable with the distant past.

Her account of the shifting political role of the European breast, from maternal to erotic to political, is outstanding, and this book is an excellent accompaniment to studies of the rise of Modernity and state-driven taxonomic systems generally.

Yalom is a gifted, c
Bill Young
interesting initially but switched to cancer and politics
This book really had a lot to say about boobs, and was very entertaining and humorous. Good, light summer nonfiction. However I had to skip over a few pages where the author makes a distinction between erotica and porn which is highly annoying to me, that is basically if she doesn't like it, it's porn. Porn is a topic that is relevant to breasts, but she could have approached it differently.
Lol, not what you think it is. The author wasn't kidding about the title--it really is a pretty dry history book, but interesting in the sense of how a body part can have so many different political and religious function and meaning in different cultures and times.

The author is also the wife of Irvin Yalom (a retired psychiatrist), one of my heroes.
Simone Collins
Wow! Did you know the Amazons got their name from the Greek words "a" (without) + "mazo" (breast) due to the supposed practice of removing (either through binding at a young age or mutilation) the right breast to make drawing a bow easier???
This book is just full of fun little insights.

PS: am half way through.
Beckie Layton
Read for research purposes but found a lot of history and interesting content.
Fascinating history of breasts in Western culture, focusing on six main themes: the religious breast, the erotic breast, the domestic breast, the political breast, the commercialized breast, and the medical breast.
alicia blegen
It's been a while since I've read it, but I learned a lot about the representation of women, patriarchy, and critical methods. And it isn't too heavy, either.
Mirjam Visscher
Oww, this book is dry, boring and diving way to deep into the subject. I skipped through in about 2 hours and that was exactly enough to give it one star.
Jul 06, 2007 Anna rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: men and women
It's a thorough book on how breasts have been seen throughout history, and of the interplay art/fashion/ contemporary ideals.
Jun 26, 2007 Jill rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: For those with breasts and those who love them
An unconventional subject for a history book! I highly recommend it. I love the author's writing style.
I remeber liking this book, but can't remember much of the specifics - I'd like to re-read it soon.
2008- A bit drier than ""Wife"", took me a while to slog through some of the chapters.
One of the most randomly informative and best books I've read since college.
Feb 08, 2008 Jane rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Leigh
Recommended to Jane by: read another book by same author
Good to read right after "Birth".
Absolutely fascinating read!!!
Actually really interesting
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Marilyn Yalom grew up in Washington D.C. and was educated at Wellesley College, the Sorbonne, Harvard and Johns Hopkins. She has been a professor of French and comparative literature, director of an institute for research on women, a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, and the author of numerous books and articles on literature and women's history.
More about Marilyn Yalom...
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