A spirited, informative history of a fascinating fiber.



A hair-follicle scientist offers an edifying look at the biology, physiology, and history of hair.

A former professor of pathology and dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and former director of skin biology for Johnson & Johnson, Stenn brings considerable expertise and lively curiosity to this wide-ranging inquiry into what hair is, how it evolved, and what it has meant culturally, personally, and economically. Hair, notes the author, is present on all skin surfaces, although on humans, much of it is hardly noticeable. Even an individual who appears to be bald has “frightfully small, only microscopically visible” hair follicles and hair shafts. Scientists disagree regarding why humans lost the dense hair cover that characterized earlier hominids; the author believes less density evolved “to protect their uniquely temperature-sensitive brain” and dissipate heat through sweat glands. Besides human hair, Stenn considers the significance of fur, which functioned as protective covering for early humans living in cold climates. Indigenous North Americans understood that late autumn was the best time to collect beaver skins because the animal’s fur was thickest in anticipation of winter. In 16th-century Europe, beaver hats were so coveted that trappers exhausted the beaver populations of Northern European forests, turning energetically to the New World, where fur trading became economically beneficial to native peoples. In the 14th century, England was renowned for wool production, which continued as the nation’s most profitable export for many centuries. Stenn investigates some arcane practices involving hair, notably the hair-hang act, where a female acrobat is suspended from rafters by a shank of hair, a feat made possible because of hair’s amazing tensile strength. Other uses for hair include artists’ brushes; violinists’ bows, which use about 130 to 150 straight shafts, constructed in a painstaking process; and as forensic evidence for solving crimes.

A spirited, informative history of a fascinating fiber.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60598-955-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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