Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body
by Victoria Pitts-Taylor, Editor
September 2008, 632pp, 7x10
2 volumes, Greenwood

Hardcover: 978-0-313-34145-8
$191, £142, 160€, A273
eBook Available: 978-1-56720-691-3
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

An amazing collection of culturally informed essays on body parts provides context and weight to the pop culture and media focus on the body beautiful.

Pop culture and the media today are saturated with the focus on the aesthetics of the human body. Magazines and infotainment shows speculate whether this or that actress had breast implants or a nose job. Americans are not just focusing on celebrities but on themselves too and today have unprecedented opportunities to rework what nature gave them. One can now drop in to have cosmetic surgery at the local mall. Contemplating the superficial nature of it all grows tiresome, and pop culture vultures and students can get a better fix for their fascination with the body beautiful through the cultural insight provided in this amazing set. Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body is a treasure trove of essays that explore the human body alphabetically by part, detailing practices and beliefs from the past and present and from around the world that are sometimes mind-blowing and eye-popping.

Body parts are examined through a multifaceted cultural lens. Readers will explore how the parts are understood, what they mean to disparate societies, how they are managed, treated, and transformed, and how they are depicted and represented. The entries draw from many disciplines that are concerned to some degree or another with human bodies, including anthropology archeology, sociology, religion, political history, philosophy, art history, literary studies, and medicine. The encyclopedia proffers information on a number of cultures, tribes, and customs from East and West. Ancient practices to the latest fad, which in fact might continue ancient practices, are illuminated. Other considerations that arise in the essays include comparisons among cultures, the changing perceptions of the body, and issues of race, gender, religion, community and belonging, ethnicity, power structures, human rights.


"A distinctive and fascinating volume on the history and cultural meaning of the body and its disparate parts. It examines perceptions of the human corpus in world cultures and history and investigates the practices, mores, taboos, and rituals that affect and transform the body in those cultures. Written by sociologists, historians, anthropologists, and other scholars, the encyclopedia covers a wide range of cultures and historical time periods, giving a thorough overview of the place of the body in world history and societies... The clear writing will accommodate general readers. The entries themselves are evenhanded and steer clear of cultural judgments and bias.' "—Library Journal, March 15, 2009

"[A] detailed chronology traces body image, adornment, and alteration from circa 2400 BCE to the present. Entries range in length from a few pages for briefer topics (e.g. Chin) to more than 30 pages for more complex (Face). When necessary, larger articles are divided into subsections... An intriguing and considered look at the body as canvas, locus of self-expression, or vehicle for societal expectation and repression, this set has a place in any college or university library."—Booklist, April 1, 2009

"This encyclopedia's topics, on various social aspects of the human body, are taken from ancient history (eunuchs, earlobe stretching) and today's headlines (cosmetic dentistry, liposuction). Pitts-Taylor ( Queens College, CUNY) previously wrote Surgery Junkies (CH, Apr'08, 45-4460) and In the Flesh (2003). Here she contributes an informative 11-page introduction that precedes 43 alphabetically arranged sections devoted to body parts, e.g., breasts, face, fat, lips, and vagina. The longest part (44 pages about the skin) includes nine articles on topics ranging from body piercing and tattoos to stretch marks… Included are a thorough keyword index, bibliography, chronology, and some illuminating black-and-white illustrations."—Choice, May 1, 2009

"Drawing on anthropology, archaeology, sociology, political history, philosophy, art history, literary studies, and medicine, this comprehensive encyclopedia seeks to discuss the human body in relation to medical traditions, popular culture, and society in general. The multipage essays on individual body parts deliver on these goals. ...This well-written, often advanced work will be highly useful in libraries with strong sociology or popular-culture collections."—School Library Journal, June 1, 2009

"The author’s comprehensive survey brings home to the reader that what is acceptable and even prized in one culture may be abhorred in another, and that perceptions about beauty can change over time within the same society."—ARBA, March 1, 2009

"I found the organization of the Encyclopedia useful and rather entertaining. . . . I enjoyed browsing these volumes enormously; the Encyclopedia is laid out in a way that enables the reader to browse casually, or use it as the base for further research into the cultural or social issues examined. Psychology, sociology, history, and humanities collections would find this useful, as indeed would those studying medicine from a cultural perspective."—Reference Reviews, September 1, 2009

"...there is some overlap between this guide and the recent Encyclopedia of Body Adornment (Greenwood, 2007), although the latter devotes more space to hairstyles, piercing, tattoos and transgender issues. Users, however, are likely to find their differing approaches complementary, as both are useful for exploring the astounding variety of cultural practices surrounding the human body."—Lawrence Looks at Books, April 1, 2009
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