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A Brief History of Nakedness Hardcover – May 15, 2010

12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"I absolutely loved A Brief History of Nakedness. Besides being a fascinating read, it contains the most fun, intriguing, and diverse collection of nude photographs anywhere. A must for anyone interested in art, political activism, and cultural studies. This 'brief' history must have taken forever to research. It makes me want to rip off my clothes for a good cause immediately." --Annie Sprinkle PhD, artist / sexologist

(Annie Sprinkle)

"In this lucid and wide-ranging book Philip Carr-Gomm . . . strips bare the paradoxes of humanity's attitude toward its own naked figures. Using a snappy blend of history and imagery, he invites readers to join him in making thrilling, confusing, funny, and beautiful realizations about that simultaneously mysterious and obvious state of unclothedness. From the rituals of witchcraft to the human art installations of Spencer Tunick to the non-nakedness of the Naked Chef, Carr-Gomm offers the revelation that far from being merely a basic physical state, human nakedness - sacred, obscene - holds the key to understanding politics, culture, and our very nature as human beings."

(Kathleen Rooney, author of Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object)

"A Brief History of Nakedness admirably uncovers religious, political and popular performances of and reactions to nudity in a remarkable array of cultures. Everything from ancient religious devotional practices to recent streaking controversies is discussed in an expert and delightful manner."

(Graham Harvey, Open University)

"Not only the best book on its subject, but a marvellous read: racy, compassionate, candid and perceptive."

(Ronald Hutton, Professor of History, University of Bristol)

"Philip Carr-Gomm has an idea: Stop reading and start taking off your clothes. He makes that suggestion at the outset of his new book, A Brief History of Nakedness. He aims to underscore the extent to which our stance toward nudity is riddled with contradiction. He has a point."
(Evan R. Goldstein Chronicle Review)

"As Philip Carr-Gomm reveals in his academic romp through two millenniums of public exhibitionism from the ancient Greeks to animal-rights activists, you can be naked anywhere. You are only nude if someone is watching. Nakedness on its own is straightforward — it’s the context and the audience of nudity that make it interesting."
(Times (UK))

"This fascinating and richly-illustrated book traces the history of humanity's preoccupation with nakedness, revealing the ways in which bare bodies have been used to enlighten, empower or simply entertain us."--Bookseller


"This is a grown-up book about the excitement--and humor--of surrendering the mystery of clothes."--Evening Standard
(Evening Standard (UK))

"Once you’ve finished this thought-provoking book, go back to the mirror. Slip off the bathrobe and have another look. Unless you were reading it in the waiting room of a plastic surgeon, nothing much will have changed. Yet something seems different. If it weren’t anatomically impossible, you’d swear your whole body was smiling."--Telegraph
(Telegraph (UK))

'A polymath survey of attitudes to the naked body across thousands of years…takes us on a colourful caravan across the centuries of Asiatic and European history"

(Reviews in History)

"Ambitious and often entertaining."
(BBC History Magazine)

"Philip Carr-Gomm’s lushly illustrated book takes a long and enthusiastic look at the politics and culture of nakedness. Nudism attracts eccentrics, and their stories, he feels, deserve to be told . . . thought-provoking."–Economist


"A kooky survey of the clothing-free."
(Alexis Soloski Village Voice)

"It’s safe to say that Philip Carr-Gomm is the rare man of letters who would admit to reading Playboy for the centrefolds, rather than the articles. His new book, A Brief History of Nakedness, is exactly what it sounds like, complete with numerous photographs such as the one seen above. But rather than providing flimsy justifications for his ogling, the book instead offers a sustained mediation on the spiritual, cultural and political implications of being naked in public."
(Ryan Bigge Toronto Star)

"Philip Carr-Gomm’s new book A Brief History of Nakedness, which, even if it doesn’t make you want to get naked for peace, will make you want to get naked."

"A Brief History of Nakedness by Philip Carr-Gomm is full of surprising reasons people get naked, and funny ones, and practical ones, and sensual ones, and many more. What might have seemed a topic that was too simple to repay extended thought turns out to have many subtle (and not-so-subtle) facets. . . . This book is as fun as history gets."
(Dispatch (Columbus MS))

About the Author

Philip Carr-Gomm is a writer, psychologist, psychotherapist, and the author of many books, including The Druidcraft Tarot and The Druid Planet Oracle.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books; 1st ed edition (May 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861896476
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861896476
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,772 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip always wanted to be a writer and wrote short stories when he was 11 and 12. But then he found the Buddha, the Druids, and Psychoanalysis, and this was all so interesting he forgot about writing until a publisher he met at a dinner party in London, when he was in his late thirties, invited him to write a book. The result, 'The Elements of the Druid Tradition', soon became one of the best sellers in the 'Elements Of' series, and he was asked to write a follow-up: 'the Druid Way'. Twenty years' later he's still writing, having broadened his scope from the topic of Druidry, with its contemporary environmental relevance, to include the history of magic in England in 'The Book of English Magic', the subject of sacred sites in the lavishly illustrated 'Sacred Places', and the subject of nudity in religion, politics and popular culture in 'A Brief History of Nakedness.' You can find his author website at and his blog at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
If you are like me, you take off all your clothes in order to change into other clothes, to bathe, to sleep, or to make love. You do not get naked to advance your religion, nor promote a good harvest, nor to support a political or social cause, nor gain money, nor participate in artistic display. There are, however, plenty of people who have done such things and continue to do so. In fact, throughout history people have taken their clothes off for reasons more than quotidian, and in fact, a history could be written about such stripping, and in fact, such a history has been written. _A Brief History of Nakedness_ (Reaktion Books) by Philip Carr-Gomm is full of surprising reasons people get naked, and funny ones, and practical ones, and sensual ones, and many more. What might have seemed a topic that was too simple to repay extended thought turns out to have many subtle (and not-so-subtle) facets. The author, who has written many serious and academic tomes, says that when his friends learned the subject of his newest book, they wanted to know what could possibly be said about it. He has found plenty to say, and for the most part avoids any academic stuffiness; this book is as fun as history gets.

One reason that Carr-Gomm can exploit the subject in so many ways is that it is universal; all of us get naked from time to time. Another reason is that the subject is full of contradictions. Religion has emphasized the shamefulness and lust associated with a naked body, and yet some highly religious people have abandoned clothes in a show of innocence, lack of shame, or denial of materialism. There has been a role for nakedness in Christianity, which originally insisted on baptism only of naked candidates.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Donald Knowles Richardson on October 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
After a discursus on nakedness as an expression of religious belief in Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Druidism, the book moves quickly to the uses of nakedness in political situations. Most of those covered (apart from the legendary mediaeval Lady Godiva, who rode naked through Coventry in protest against her husband's taxation policy) are from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Many of the latter will be remembered by those over 30 years of age. Although Carr-Gomm mentions that `The Duke of Wellington saw Napoleon naked every day', he abstains from retailing the fascinating history of Canova's colossal sculpture of the fallen emperor, which still graces the stairwell of the Duke's home at London's Hyde Park Corner.

Thus, the book could more reasonably be titled `A Recent History of Nakedness'.

There is an interesting and learned discussion of the concept of being `clothed with the sky' - the attitude of those religious who believe that it is essential to be naked before nature or one's god - quoting justification from religious texts. Similarly, the concept and practice of nudism and streakers at sporting matches.

The section, `The Desire to See - The Voyeur in Us All' is an interesting read.

But, apart from a brief mention of the famous Venus of Willendorf sculpture and of Donatello's and Michelangelo's representations of David, there is surprisingly little reference to nakedness in art. The group nude photographs by Spencer Tunick, sculptures by Marc Quinn and Antony Gormley and some work by Banksy are the exceptions.

The only art-historical reference quoted is John Berger who - in Ways of Seeing, in 1972 - distinguished only superficially between nakedness and nudity.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roger Coss on July 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'd first heard of this book in a review on line back in May '10. It came up in a search on Spencer Tunick, the American photographic artist who covers landscapes in both rural and urban setting in nude humans to create a very diverse body of work(pun intended)as well as individual portraits. The review I read was positive and said that Mr. Carr-Gomm did cover Spencer's works and a whole lot more. I left a comment on the review as a participant in Spencer's art and was surprised to find Mr. Carr-Gomm replied. I was hooked,and resolved to buy the book when I could afford it. Shortly after I was able to order a copy through Amazon. Couldn't wait to read it! Yes, I said "read". Not that there are not a lot of photos. Really very good ones, and many NSFW, so be warned. It is beautifully and thouroughly illustrated. But this book is an in depth look at the history of us humans in the raw from the start till the present. Mr Carr-Gomm gives a look at humans and nudity/nakedness in religion,culture,politics, theater, music and of course, art. Wherever we humans go, whatever we do we decide on what clothes we must wear - or if not, why not. Mr. Carr-Gomm has done a lot of research and given a lot of thought to the history and taboo of nudity. And he makes it a good read with much humor and affection through out. It never becomes dry or tedious nor does it pander to the salacious. If you are looking for porn, you will be disappointed. Not to say he does not speak of sex. How can you not in a book about naked people? His point is that our skin is about so much more than sex. I would add that this is Spencer Tunick's point as well, and Philip Carr-Gomm gives Spencer's work a good deal of credit for changing the minds of a lot of people about nude bodies. Do I have any negatives about the book?Read more ›
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