THE NAKED MAN by Desmond Morris


A Study of the Male Body
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“No life form has had greater impact upon this planet than the human male,” claims Morris in this follow-up to The Naked Woman (2005, etc.)

The author begins with a discussion of the primeval male, who honed his skills, took risks and indulged his curiosity, eventually evolving into a “startlingly efficient prey-killer.” In this manner, females, “too valuable reproductively to be risked in the chase,” became specialized as “cautious, caring, maternally efficient individuals.” The man-the-hunter image still persists today, writes Morris, in competitive sports and games, muscle-building and collecting hobbies, along with the sexual strategies that allow for pair-bonding but also for sowing one’s seeds when opportunity knocks. Following this chapter on evolutionary processes, the author devotes much of the rest of the text to the specifics of male body parts. Here Morris covers body language, clothing styles and adornments that males have adopted to endow body parts with symbolic meaning and significance, much of it gender-associated. Some of this is intriguing (the contradictions that allow both baldness and hairiness to be signs of virility), some is minutiae (the free-type ear lobe is twice as common as the attached type), much is folklore (a precious metal earring would distract the devil from entering the body through the ear) and some is simply Morris’s penchant for Guinness-type records (who has the longest nose, pigtail, etc.) There are neat nuggets like “playing a hunch”—which refers to “making a play at the gaming tables after touching [a] hunchback [person]”—but there is also insufficient information. Weighing the pros and cons of male circumcision, for example, Morris makes no mention that the procedure can lower the odds of contracting HIV. Finally, the author advances the bizarre theory that homosexuality is the result of boys never outgrowing the middle childhood years when girls are shunned.

Proceed with caution—enjoy the folklore but beware the folly.

Pub Date: Aug. 18th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-38530-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2009


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