Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Book review: 'Adam's Navel' by Michael Sims

Robin Som writes:

Considering the definition of anthropology - 'the scientific study of the origin, the behaviour, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans' - it is strange that it is missing from teaching in most medical schools – human beings are the bread and butter of the medical profession. In Adam’s Navel, Michael Sims uses a variety of disciplines including medicine to explore the cultural and scientific significance of the human body, part by part. Everything, with a few exceptions, from the hair to the hands to the genitalia to the toes – is scrutinised for historical facts, figures and anecdotes.

It is an interesting idea. It would be nice to know the origin of the many beliefs we hold about our bodies – how did the eyes become 'the window to our souls'? Exactly what is it about breasts and bums that make them sexually attractive?

Sadly a promising concept fails in the hands of Sims. Adam’s Navel is part encyclopaedia, social history, journalism and textbook; and these various styles do not gel to form a cohesive read. Scientific terms – that are rarely explained – such as ‘hominid diaspora’ sit uneasily with wisecracks that only sometimes hit the spot. Sims flits from references to notable scientists such as Darwin and Desmond Morris to tales of Hollywood actresses Veronica Lake and Rita Hayworth. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this type of eclecticism – it just needs to be done well!
What could’ve been an enlightening and entertaining read unfortunately becomes a frustrating, long list of trivia. Here’s hoping the powers that be at medical school ignore Adam’s Navel if they ever consider throwing a bit of anthropology in with anatomy, neuroscience et al.

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