A Human History

Book - 2016
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Most people don't give a second thought to the stuff on their head, but hair has played a crucial role in in fashion, the arts, sports, commerce, forensics, and industry. In Hair, Kurt Stenn -- one of the world's foremost hair follicle experts -- takes readers on global journey through history, from fur merchant associations and sheep farms to medical clinics and patient support groups, to show the remarkable impact hair has had on human life.From a completely bald beauty queen with alopecia to the famed hair-hang circus act, Stenn weaves the history of hair through a variety of captivating examples, with sources varying from renaissance merchants' diaries to interviews with wig makers, modern barbers, and more. In addition to expelling the biological basis and the evolutionary history of hair, the fiber is put into context: hair in history (as tied to textile mills and merchant associations), hair as a construct for cultural and self-identity, hair in the arts (as the material for artist's brushes and musical instruments), hair as commodity (used for everything from the inner lining of tennis balls to an absorbent to clean up oil spills), and hair as evidence in criminology. Perfect for fans of Mark Kurlansky, Hair is a compelling read based solidly in historical and scientific research that will delight any reader who wants to know more about the world around them.
Publisher: New York :, Pegasus Books,, 2016.
ISBN: 9781605989556
Characteristics: xv, 224 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm


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FindingJane Aug 28, 2016

This book covers multiple grounds when it discusses hair. I had always thought about it as dead matter on the top of my head and thus paid it scant attention unless I wanted it clean and free of dirt, mites and snarls. I also didn’t want my scalp to itch or spread disease. What else was required?

Well, hair—human and otherwise—has always been a source of political, sociological, medical and/or religious debate. Secular laws have been formed around it; religious prohibitions or strictures have been erected on its stylings, presence or absence and the solving of crimes have hinged on single strands of hair. This book goes into all these topics and more as it delves into the hidden significance of that thatch resting on our skin.

The scientific nature of human and animal hair gets more than sufficient coverage; Mr. Stenn's language is clear and concise but perhaps the scientific underpinnings are a little too esoteric for most casual readers.

I also would have preferred more in the way of illustrations. The short section in the middle of the book, featuring photographs, paintings and images of sculpture, seems a little too scant although it does touch on the various chapters Mr. Stenn includes in his book.

No matter. The majority of the book is riveting reading. This book is a handy primer for anyone who’s ever wanted to know more about hair.

Apr 11, 2016

What a fun micro-history! I've had a complicated relationship with my own hair, and this book caught my eye one day when I was keyword-bombing my library's catalogue. If you believe hair isn't just something you wash and dry, you might enjoy Hair: A Human History.

Kurt Stenn offers a really engaging look at human hair throughout time, starting way back before humans even existed. History lovers will enjoy the connections Stenn makes to the economic, religious, cultural and socio-political shifts that impacted hair -- the styles and uses thereof (and vice versa).

Other hair-y recommendations: documentary film Good Hair, narrated by Chris Rock.


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