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Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form
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Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  199 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
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 th ...more
ebook, 352 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2003)
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(showing 1-30)
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Melissa Norton
I struggled to get through this -- it gets three stars for fitfully engaging passages and plenty of trivia. The book reads like a 300-page New Yorker article, and coming from me, that is not a compliment. The author injects far too many opinionated asides as well, which are extremely distracting. He references classic literature and mythology extensively, disdaining more modern references and popular culture, which adds to the condescending tone of the book. Space constraints prevent the discuss ...more
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: philologists! everyone!
Eclectic and thorough -- I like the voice of this book, which darts from formal to conspiratorial, as well as the treatment of the subject matter. Sims takes a tremendous topic -- the human body -- and addresses it through an unusual lens, although it's the one we usually use -- what you can see. So, no holding forth on the appendix, but a good long treatise on the bellybutton (as you might expect) and very thorough treatment of the area below the belt. I appreciate the glee in Sims' fact-findin ...more
There are definitely some entertaining facts in this one. Ancient superstitions about hair included poorly timed haircuts causing weather disasters and hair in birds' nests causing headaches or death. The tortellini was allegedly modeled on Venus' belly button. Louis Armstrong suffered horrible lip bleeding from his trumpet playing. The treadmill was originally invented to break prisoners with its monotony. The Barbie doll was based on a European sex toy...

But I’m only giving it 3 stars, because
May 14, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Dirty girl that I am, I almost wish this book had been condensed into the chapters on the sex organs (preciously named "Madonna del Latte" and "Privy Members"). Which were excellent. There were certainly gems in other sections of the book--informative tidbits on why we have back pain, attitudes towards hair, the bogusness of palmistry--and I LOVED how snarky he was about Freud, with other good jabs at the occasionally absurd attitude of patriarchy towards various elements of the female body, but ...more
Jun 14, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are two types of nonfiction: 'Look at all the cool stuff there is.' and 'Look at all the cool stuff I know.' Sims falls clearly into the latter pile, smug and condescending. He brings up the beliefs and traditions of ancient and foreign cultures solely for the purpose of deriding them, but the perspectives of Western secular humanism go unquestioned because of course we've arrived at pure knowledge. Disjointed, aimless, and peppered with inept analogies, it's okay in snippets, but intolera ...more
Apr 29, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book relates different parts of the body to culture, history, and you can imagine it covers A LOT of ground. for example, the author briefly mentions numerous scientific studies on the most random things (eg. earwax and toe movements), quotes calvin of calvin & hobbes, and references classical pieces of art, even those drawn on cave walls. sims is sometimes hard to follow as he jumps from one fact or insight to another, but the subject matter (i like random facts), sarcasm ...more
Miles Baxter
Not my favorite piece of non-fiction literature, but an interesting read nontheless. It's a good mix of anthropology, natural history, evolutionary biology, anatomy, and my personal favorite, etymology.
One of my pet peeves with non-fiction works is organization, or the lack thereof. Not an issue with Adam's Naval. Granted, it's not a very complex topic, but the simple, easy-to-read structure (at least for a anal, semi-neurotic reader) was refreshing.
Apr 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: trivia dorks
Although judging by the ridiculous length of time it took me to read this, I eat up books like this. Tons of useless knowledge and trivia, extensively and generously referenced. I added about a dozen and a half books to my "to read" list because of this one.

The author does make some editorial asides, which for the most part aren't off putting, though you can tell he votes Democrat.
Jun 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
It was a cool book. Definitely more cultural than anything else. If you ever wanted to know who wrote what about any body part, Michael Sims will tell you that. One thing that I found very lacking is the pictures :( A lot of time is spent discussing one painting or the other, and it would really help if I had a picture of it right there, instead of constantly googling it :(
Nov 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A broad, rambling series of riffs on the cultural interpretations of the human body. References as varied as greek mythology, Shakespeare (frequently), Calvin and Hobbes and Playboy. His prose is erudite, but fluid and very readable; though the book suffers from a lack of a central argument or any driving force.
The author states that he began writing this primarily to amuse himself while recuperating, and it certainly reads as though he is the main reader he's trying to entertain. I would have liked a bit more depth; ultimately, this book opens some tantalizing doors just a crack and moves on before the reader gets much more than a glimpse of what lies beyond.
Amber the Human
I happened to check this out of the library and enjoyed it enough to give it as a gift to my science-minded father. Now I have it again and I've been meaning to read it ... but again, terrible about reading books I own (or am borrowing).
Jul 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ideas people
This book is a joy. Michael divides this book into the parts of the body and tells us terribly interesting stuff about each bit along the way. It is funny, shocking and sometimes a bit off putting. But always a delight.
Sep 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i learned sooo much reading this is a history of the human body starting at the head and working gave fascinating information and didn't get bogged down in scientific terminology...
Jerome K
Cute. Michael Sims put together a delightful little book of all manner of trivia about the various parts of the human body. Though I wish it were less pastel, it's still a nice read. Totally un-serious. I'd recommend this for a light lazy Sunday afternoon reading.
This book is a very interesting look at all your body parts and what they are good for.
Aug 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting popular science read.
Jeff Hogan
This book only had a few morsels of actual interest, but it was a good waste of time.
Grace Elayne Garber
Very interesting, explores the human form in it's entirety.

Grabbed from the free books bookshelf at school.
Sep 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and witty...very entertaining.
Christina Lynch
I found this book to be more a collection of interesting facts and history and not really a formulated or cohesive read. It is a good book for quirky insights and as a bedside read.
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology, history
Loved it. Very interesting look at how different parts of the body have been perceived through time and different cultures.
Dec 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, there's a chapter on the cultural history of the belly button. And yes, it is incredible.
Sep 10, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I only read it a few years ago and can't remember anything from it. Light and fun, but forgetable. . .
Jun 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
A quick and enjoyable natural history of the body parts from toes to privy members. Entertaining but also at times educational.
Oct 09, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very, very interesting! I love non-fiction books like this that focus on a topic at length. I learned a lot. It is very upfront and not for the easily embarrassed.
Apr 16, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was entertaining and I learned a lot of interesting facts, but I don't think I learned anything significant from it.
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Lots of trivia about the human body. It was interesting but hard to read more than a little bit at a time.
Kristi Brendle
Interesting & well-researched, but a bit overly technical and wordy.
Oct 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Another book full of random info about the human body. Not only interesting from a biological perspective but also from a cultural one.
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Michael Sims is the author of the acclaimed "The Story of Charlotte's Web, Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination," "Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form," and editor of "Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories" and "The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories." He lives in western Pennsylva ...more
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