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Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of The Human Form

by Michael Sims

About.com Rating 1.5 Star Rating


Adam's Navel Michael Sims
Viking Press
July, 2003

Did you know that in the 1800s Hungarian peasants used to cover up all the mirrors in their houses so their small children wouldn't accidentally kill themselves with a reflected "evil eye?"

I do.

There is now a small chunk of real estate in my brain dedjcated to storing that factoid along with a breadbox full of other trivia crumbs I Iearned from reading "Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of The Human Form"-the new inspection of the human body, piece by piece, by Michael Sims.

Adam's Navel is a long and somewhat boring stream of facts and conjectures about the individual parts of the visible human body from the scalp to the toe nails. The majority of the information is either a summation of current evolutionary theories or a map of how different cultural myths shape our literal and figurative view of our body. I was happy to hear that humans have the largest and most flexible penis of all the higher primates, but less enthralled to know that the little dimple at the top of the inner lip of your ear has a name (it's "Darwin's point").
There are some charming little tidbits included with which you may be able to impress folks at your next dinner party, but they are few and far between in an ocean of excess - the end result of which made "Adam's Navel" a real chore to want to climb back into.

The writing itself seems as if Mr. Sims compiled the info-bits by running through a basic Google search with each body part, and then creating a data pastiche for others to enjoy. The end result is a collection that may be of interest to some Scientific American frontiers or Paul Harvey fans, but just fell flat to my tastes. In theory, this could have been a fascinating read had the author supplimented the data with some wit and a fresher style, but after plowing through a few hundred pages of Snapple cap wisdom, I got the feeling that Sims himself is of little more substance than a collection of amalgamated body parts. Sims' outmoded old-school liberal feminist quips go from cute to boring to annoying fast, and give the aura of reading some middle-aged nerd's horrible journal rather than what could have been an engrossing scientific exploration of the human shell.

I think this idea can still be done succesfully, however it will have to be in the hands of a more capable story teller who can weave ideas together in a more creative and wittier fashion. Sims was right to see that the human body is a compelling story in itself. It's too bad he ended up being the wrong narrator.

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