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Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form Paperback – June 29, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142004642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004647
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.2 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Are we more than the sum of our parts? Perhaps, but it's fascinating nonetheless to look at our noses, ears, feet, and other bits as isolated evolutionary stories. That's just what Michael Sims does in Adam's Navel, an amusing collection of bodily facts. Sims wrote the book while laid out recovering from back surgery, jotting free association musings about whatever body part he had in mind. The result is a set of chapters with such titles as "Skin Deep," "The Not-Quite-Naked Ape," and "Our Steed the Leg." Besides anatomy and evolution, Sims turns to literature, movies, comics, and pop culture to glean references. He doesn't have patience for puritanical or non-egalitarian attitudes toward body parts, defending Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues against a "conspiracy of silence" and dismissing Camille Paglia's "nonsensical argument" that male urination is superior to that of females. But Sims doesn't let things get too serious:

The cleft where the buttocks begin to form into two hemispheres--the butt crack famously exhibited by fat plumbers who drop wrenches--was once called the nock. The word survives elsewhere, as the name of an arrow's notch to accommodate the bowstring.

As engaging as it is fact-filled, Adam's Navel brings together delightful anatomical trivia with abundant evidence that we pay as much attention to breasts, fingers, and patches of hair as we do to whole people. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
From heads to toes, we are all remarkable creatures, even if regarded superficially. Regarding bodies superficially, but in whimsical depth, is the purpose of _Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form_ (Viking) by Michael Sims. While he may make a brief foray down the mouth or into the ears, Sims has left the innards pretty much alone. Instead, he has gone on a head-to-toe journey, scribbling down historical, etymological, literary, and physiological nuggets connected to all the external body parts. The book is a miscellany; other than the deliberate southwards theme, there is little unity, but that doesn't matter. Sims is a journalist on scientific and cultural matters (the science here is definitely science light, in keeping with the fun of the volume), and he has amassed a huge amount of information, even if it reflects a quirky selection. The overall topic is inherently interesting, and the digressions themselves are full of facts.
For instance, after regarding the face, its relative hairlessness, the thirty-six ways of moving the eyes, and the way faces are inherited as shown by the photos of your ancestors on the mantel, Sims treats us to pages about the Face on Mars. What this silly case, and all the other faces-in-the randomness manifestations, show is that we are evolutionarily programmed to see faces even if they aren't faces. Not only do newborns know to fix their gaze on faces (thereby getting attention from the more competent humans around them), but predators such as ourselves are better off mistakenly making a snap judgement "Hey, there's a face!" and then sheepishly refining the assessment if it really isn't one.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By L.K.B.H. on August 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wowsers. This book is chock full of information--cultural, biological, historical, literary--pertaining to the human body. Sims has done a masterful job of research; this book springs to life with allegories, allusions and myths, each connected to a particular part of the body. Though not as humorous as Mary Roach's marvelous paean to the cadaver, _Stiff_, this book proves to be just as interesting. If your interest is piqued by the body human, you must read this book. Sims goes much further than what you would find on NOVA--for instance, he addresses the purpose of eyebrows and why Bram Stoker's Dracula presents the true embodiment of evil. You'll sail through this book; although it can be a bit viscous, with perseverance, the reader will learn myriad factoids. It is well written, thoroughly researched and will refocus the reader on the miracle that is the human form.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on November 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Like other Americans my age, I grew up in a time when certain body parts were rarely discussed, and if they were there were made up euphemisms to cover their basic ugliness. The actions of such body parts were also taboo. In fact nobody ever went to the bathroom or shared a bed on early television, even if married! As a child I wondered if such grand people as the President of the United States actually used the bathroom at all except to bathe! The toilet was a little mentioned, though necessary fixture.

Times have changed (some would say for the worst!) and I, for one, find it refreshing to have the WHOLE BODY examined in "Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form," by Michael Sims. While numerous books have appeared on this and related subjects in recent years, Sims has contributed by given us a solid popular overview. His accounts of the biology and lore of the hair, head, face, eyes, nose, lips, ears, arms, hands, breasts, navels, genitalia, and legs make fascinating reading.

Certainly, despite the more open climate, prudery has not left us. We still live in times when an Attorney General is afraid to appear in the same photograph as a statue of Justice with a naked breast! This incident led to numerous jokes and did little to improve the image of the office!

If you are interested in the external human body (probably most everybody as we are "owners" and "operators" of the same) you will find numerous anecdotes, facts and fables relating to our intimate selves.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Joseph S. Maresca HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book attempts to explain longstanding anecdotes on parts of

the human body-their origin, function and meaning. The history

of the handshake is explained. The integration of hand movements and language has an interconnection according to the author.

The nose is cited as a part of the body which gets the least

respect as body parts go. The purity of breasts is extolled in

pop art. Overall, the book is a celebration of the human body.

A criticism is that it seems to lack a unifying theme or purpose.

It is unique in that the information content is out-of-the-

ordinary. The author even has a passage describing the arrid

landscape on the Marsian planet. The author experiments with

a bold escape from conventional writing themes in favor of

amorphous theoretical concepts not subject to exact quantification.
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