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Crying: A Natural and Cultural History of Tears Paperback – January 17, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (January 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393321037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321036
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,289,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Behind the human eye lies a complex system of dozens of secretory and excretory glands bearing such names as "crypts of Henle" and "Wolfring's glands." These glands combine to produce basal tears that flow into the nasolacrimal duct, which in turn empties into the nose. Under the right conditions of irritation, emotion, or illness, the glands yield more liquid than the nasolacrimal duct can handle, causing tears to spill out and drain over the eyelids. Thus crying, a rare human universal that we share with no other creature, for which reason Charles Darwin called it "a special expression of man."

There you have the basic science behind crying, a branch of inquiry that in literary scholar Tom Lutz's view ought to but does not bear the name "lacrimology" or even "lamentology." Lutz considers the natural history of weeping, writing vigorously and accessibly about the mysterious workings of the human body. But more, he looks into the cultural rules that surround crying, especially those in Western societies that only in the last few decades have established norms whereby women are supposed to cry freely in times of stress and trouble, whereas men are not. Illustrating his cultural history with examples from literature and art, Lutz delivers a fine, eminently readable exercise in popular anthropology, one that will be of wide interest. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Observing that the act of weeping is exclusively human, though its interpretation is by no means universal, Lutz (American Nervousness, 1903) offers a fascinating, multi-disciplinary study of tears. With a fluid style and an astonishingly vast reachAencompassing history, literature, the arts and the social sciencesALutz explores how crying has been portrayed and perceived throughout history. In a dense but essential section, he examines the physiology of tears and cites theorists, Darwin among them, who considered crying a physical, muscular act. Of course, tears are more commonly viewed as expressing "a surplus of feeling over thinking," whether of sorrow, happiness, pain, relief, pride, empathy, catharsis, deception (as in crocodile tears) or any combination of these emotions. Lutz asks not only why we cry, but why we stop crying and how we react to another person's tears. His examination of gender stereotypes and the traditional division of emotional "labor" in our society, according to which women cry and men restrain themselves, is especially provocative. Turning to pop culture, Lutz comments on how contemporary American gender-typing has shifted in books, movies and real life, noting two iconic images: Jacqueline Kennedy's stoic reserve at her husband's funeral and Michael Jordan's open sobbing at a championship victory. This accomplished work is a rich treat for anyone intrigued by emotional displays. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca on April 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
In this book, the author puts his multi-disciplinary knowledge to good use by summarizing literary, artistic, cultural, biological, and psychological analyses of tears. Lutz synthesizes these viewpoints in clear language, accompanied by vivid pictures and illustrations that further clarify his points. With examples ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Freud's rejection of crying as catharsis, the book covers a remarkable amount of material across a great deal of time, while remaining a cohesive text.
Those interested in psychology will appreciate Lutz's analysis of the varied psychological explanations of crying, as well as his perspective on Phineas Gage. Students of anatomy will be impressed by his clear explanation of the lacrimal system and the history of how it came to be understood. Sociologists and anthropologists will be fascinated by his insights into cultural mourning. And fans of literature will enjoy his analysis of tears in fiction, in which he discusses playwrights from Shakespeare to Neal Simon and authors from Socrates to Dostoyevsky. The book even treats crying in relation to films such as Lorenzo's Oil and Titanic!
In effect, although classified as a psychology book, "Crying" has a little something for most everyone. A useful book for analysis, self-reflection, reference or study.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca of Amazon HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 15, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Tears have been central to myth, religion, poetry, and fiction through the ages, but until recently, remarkably little has been written in an attempt to explain and understand tears themselves. Perhaps no other fundamental human activity has received so little direct and sustained attention." ~ Tom Lutz

Tom Lutz presents an understanding of tears to explore crying as expressed in cultural context. He explains the reasons why people don't weep at funerals in Bali, reveals the chemical content of emotional versus lubricating tears, and delves into tribal rituals that seek to wash away psychic pain.

"Crying: The Natural & Cultural History of Tears" looks at tears from every angle an anthropologist could wish for and while Tom Lutz uncovers the mystery and intrigue of tears, he also appeals to the psychologist in us all who longs for deeper explanations. This can at times read more like an intellectual treatise rather than an emotive argument, but all the while, Tom Lutz seems to seek a validation for crying in a world where no one can agree on a similar standard for the shedding of tears. Some cultures have specific rules for when you may or may not cry that seem shockingly cruel on the surface, but reveal an underlying need for survival in difficult circumstances. The harmful mourning rituals of some tribes made horror movies sound like a summer picnic.

The spiritual significance of tears is especially interesting, as is the way humans express their feelings of loss. As Tom Lutz so aptly states: "...without desire there are no tears." Desire takes many forms and at times a desire that is fulfilled is also the cause for tears. We may also fear the loss of what we desire or desire something we can't have and so are then frustrated.
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By Rajiv Chopra on December 22, 2013
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book from the library, and approached it with a lot of hope. However, while I enjoyed the many examples of tears that have littered the books of history, there was not too much about the book that really gave me deep insight into this phenomenon. What it did bring up, and make very clear, is that we do not have too much insight into this fundamental activity of us humans. However, while we have written about many human emotions, we have not done the same for tears.

Tom Lutz has indeed done us a service by writing this book. I don't envy him the task that he set for himself. This is a very difficult subject to write about
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Format: Paperback
If you have ever been mocked or put down for crying, then this book is for YOU! Mr. Lutz does a very comprehensive job of looking at tears through the eye of history and humanities. I learned by reading this book that tears weren't always taboo. In some cultures, crying was a source of strength vs a sign of weakness. Tears are natural release that can facilitate bonding with another person (be it on a platonic friendship or romantic/sexual level) as well as psychically and psychologically healthy as well as being spiritually healing. So if you ever wondered about this topic, please do read this book.
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