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A Brief History Of The Smile Hardcover – January 6, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

All smiles may be triggered by an "instantaneous chemical reaction in the brain," but that's where their similarities end, says art historian and curator Trumble in this eclectic and engaging look at the phenomenon throughout art and history and across cultures. He breezily traces the representation of the smile, from its mild, mask-like expression in early Greek sculpture to its ever-debated, enigmatic presence on da Vinci's Mona Lisa, to its gaping glory days in 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting. Unabashed tooth display in formal portraiture was frowned upon right up to the 20th century, when sufficient progress had been made in the fields of photography and dentistry to usher in the wide-mouthed grin. Trumble travels east to explain the Indonesian smile, often misread by Westerners as unconditionally welcoming, and to present the evolutions of the Muslim concept of purdah, "the most obvious form of modesty or physical concealment," as well as the Japanese custom of tooth-blackening, which coyly flirted with Oriental notions of "exposing and concealing." Readers learn that Buddha's transcendent beam represents intelligence, compassion and ethereality, while the fleeting appearance of the "Gothic smile" in 12th-century Christian iconography is considered a departure from more characteristic Jesus imagery. Trumble also tackles a bit of science, detailing the smile's physiological mechanisms; child development, explaining the involuntary radiance of infants; and trends, examining our celebrity-crazed, Angelina-lipped pop culture. Since Trumble sets out to tackle "the smile in the broadest possible sense," his resulting chronicle, while packed with factoids and whimsy (who knew George Washington wore a makeshift bridge of carved hippopotamus teeth?) feels fun but diffuse.
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"'Satisfyingly rich, consistently surprising and gloriously irreverent'. The Daily Telegraph 'A beautifully written book'. New Scientist 'Thanks to Trumble's curiosity, breadth of knowledge and naughty sense of humour, the overall effect is delightful'. Psychology Today" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465087779
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465087778
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,101,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Say "cheese." If you say cheese, you are ready for the photographer to render a picture-perfect portrait complete with smile. That's the way it has been since around 1920, when photographers at British public schools developed the tradition. And yet that is not the way it has always been, according to _A Brief History of the Smile_ (Basic Books) by Angus Trumble, a lively history of a subject no one might expect to have a history. The photographer Cecil Beaton instructed his subjects to say "lesbian." In Australia there is a fashion for saying "money." Spaniards say "patata" (potato) and the Japanese use the English word "whisky." The Czechs used to use the Czech word for cheese, but now say "fax" which may hurtle them into modernity. Plenty of languages don't have a smile word; the photographers just ask for a smile and the subjects do the best they can. We don't smile just for the photographer, of course, and Trumble, a museum art curator, has a lot more to say about his subject, a pleasant history that he happily says is "about smiling in the broadest possible sense."
The origin of this book was a surprise invitation to Trumble to address a convention of dentists. As a curator of art, he was thought by the dentists to have something to say on the representation of teeth and beauty. He began to examine smiles in art. You can bet the _Mona Lisa_ is here, as is Frans Hals's _Laughing Cavalier_. There is a famous "archaic smile" on early Greek sculpture. The figures of young men and women stand stiffly, but their mysterious smiles give them a reassuring amount of life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Hans Castorp VINE VOICE on February 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
Mr. Trumble is an art historian with a terrific wry sense of humor, and great knowledge about his subject! His talk to some dentists led him to research the long and mostly amusing history of the smile. Analyzing Greek,Chinese, Cambodian sculptures, some of the best known western SMILE paintings,Japanese geishas (who dyed their teeth black), early US Presidents (a bit dour until the advent of Teddy Roosevelt),Darwin's thoughts on the facial habits of his new-born babes, and a lot more, we are led through a smiling tour de force. This is the kind of book you'll read closely the first time, and then probably browse thru for interesting and amusing tidbits.So why not click the order button right now!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By nick trumble on March 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. It was full of useless information (the most fascinating kind) and was obviously a labour of love. I never knew about sheelas. (I always thought they were middle aged Australian barmaids.) The fact that this book is so engaging, so resolutely cheerful, and written with such a sustained lightness of touch is all the more surprising since it was written by a Trumble. (Trumbles being, in my experience at any rate, genetically predisposed towards gloominess, and not given overmuch to smiling.) Maybe it will be left to another, more upbeat family to compose "A Brief History of the Frown".
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