What's your favorite part of the human body?
The question, with its subtext of titillation, is one that Hugh Aldersey-Williams is used to hearing when he promotes his book, "Anatomies." It bothers him, he says, because it betrays the very concept of the body that he's trying to get away from: an assemblage of parts.
"It's perhaps useful to be aware that this hierarchy of body parts is a cultural phenomenon," he writes in Psychology Today. "It is only in the era of modern science that we have come to regard the brain as the most important organ. Before that, in medieval times, it was the heart, which was the seat not only of love, as we know, but also of reason. And before that, in some cultures, it was the liver that was regarded as central. The parts may have fixed locations within our bodies, but they have shifting positions in our affections."
In the words of his publisher, in "Anatomies," Aldersey-Williams uses "an engaging narrative" to explore "the corporeal mysteries that make us human."
LEARN MORE ABOUT 'ANATOMIES':
• Anatomies by Hugh Aldersey-Williams: review
With its "relentless narrowing of focus" on the body's "smallest components", science encourages us to view our corporeal parts in high resolution and in isolation. But the close-ups don't foster in us a feeling of closeness — the more we learn, the less we know our bodies as a whole. Scientists spouting esoteric jargon doesn't help; their highly technical vocabularies, used chiefly to "keep knowledge to themselves", make the rest of us feel like strangers in our own skin. (The Telegraph)