Combining his own experiences, interviews with other men and the findings of various researchers, the author artfully reveals the ways in which male stature matters.
A science journalist (Merchants of Mortality, 2003, etc.), Hall writes with feeling about a subject dear to his heart: the modern obsession with tallness. He frankly shares the downsides of being a small, late-maturing adolescent—becoming the victim of bullying, for example—while pointing out that one of its blessings is that facing such adversities can lead to keener development of an emotional intelligence. Among the subjects he explores are human growth charts; puberty and the adolescent growth spurt; and the historic roots of society’s admiration for tallness. Calling the cultural preference for tallness “the Prussian curse,” he details the measures taken by the height-obsessed King Frederick William of Prussia to build up a force of extraordinarily tall soldiers, measures that included kidnapping tall men from other countries. Hall argues that while size does matter, environment matters just as much, and he finds simplistic the reports on the height of CEOs that equate tallness with leadership qualities, pointing to research indicating that it is the height of a boy at age 16 that influences future wages. Timing of growth, he says, isn’t everything, but it is very important. Hall also points out that while height says nothing about the character of an individual, average height of a population says a great deal about the values of society. While average height has remained stagnant in the United States since World War II, it has increased in other industrialized areas, e.g., Germany, England and the Scandinavian countries, suggesting a greater attention there to social equality and better health care.
Shortness is not a prerequisite for enjoying Hall’s work, but concerned parents of short boys will find it particularly reassuring.