Monday, 7 January 2019

Book review: Beneath the Skin (2018)

This collection of essays by name authors is a British production and something about its twee superficiality made me reflect on how the Brits have degenerated in recent decades. It was like watching a particularly bad episode of ‘QI’ or any episode of ‘Would I Lie to You?’. Brits trying to be nasty (and funny) are tiresome, and in this book the attempts that have been taken to be serious turn out to be simply lame.

The only essay in this collection I finished was written by Abi Curtis and it was about the eye. I tried all the other ones but found that the tone was either too playful (trying hard to make a difficult subject palatable for a mainstream audience) or not rigorous enough. For example, the first essay, on the gut, by Naomi Alderman, made no mention of the process of digestion nor of the way that biosolids (the treated waste that cities produce) is reused in agriculture as a fertiliser. She just hadn’t done her homework.

An attempt to background our current knowledge by showing how the particular organ in question was viewed in ancient times (before the advent of modern medicine, which started in the early 17th century) was something of a trope for the writers of these pieces.

I certainly can’t see anything here of the depth and exhaustiveness that Kate Cole-Adams displayed in her wonderful book ‘Anaesthesia’ (which was published in 2017 and which I reviewed on this blog on 21 November last year), which is a keeper where this uneven book is most certainly disposable.

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