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240 × 165 × 28 mm
368 pages
46 illustrations
15 Apr 2019

Fat A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life Christopher E. Forth

Fat: such a little word evokes big responses. While ‘fat’ describes the size and shape of bodies, our negative reactions to corpulent bodies also depend on something tangible and tactile; as this book argues, there is more to fat than meets the eye. Fat: A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life offers a historical reflection on how fat has been perceived and imagined in the West since antiquity. Featuring fascinating historical accounts, philosophical, religious and cultural arguments, including discussions of status, gender and race, the book digs deep into the past for the roots of our current notions and prejudices. Three central themes emerge: how we have perceived and imagined obesity over the centuries; how fat as a substance has elicited disgust and how it evokes perceptions of animality; but also how it has been associated with vitality and fertility. By exploring the complex ways in which fat, fatness and fattening have been perceived over time, this book provides rich insights into the stuff our stereotypes are made of.

Fat is a thoroughly researched and capable book, academic and rigorous in tone . . . It remains a timely reminder of the cycles of our organic existence in the face of ever greater outer forces.’ — History Today

‘Why do we in the West have such an intense aversion to fat? Was fatness really celebrated as a sign of health, prosperity, status and beauty at some point in the distant past? Christopher Forth explores these questions in his lively, ambitious book Fat: A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life. Taking a longue durée approach, from the prehistoric to the present day, he resoundingly demonstrates that there really is more to fat than meets the eye. This is a myth-busting book . . . a ‘fat’ book in the most agriculturally positive sense of the word. It is an impressive, lively study and an enjoyable read. Forth’s book breaks new ground and will provide historians of the body with much to think about for years to come.’ — Literary Review

‘Fat was, then as now, a political and moral issue, Forth declares, as illustrations of porcine popes, belly-hugging bishops and ravenous rabbis show . . . Forth feeds the reader some toothsome titbits in this unnerving but gripping book.’ — The Spectator

Fat: A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life is ideologically electric . . . Without compromising the medical realities of obesity, Forth lucidly argues the case for what is, in essence, love against the disgust inspired by the ancient doctrine of intolerance and "mechanical efficiency".’ — The Australian

‘Christopher E. Forth's remarkable book serves to see how lipophobia (the fear of fat) shares a common root: a utopian will to transcend matter and achieve a kind of ethereal perfection above contingencies. It has always been so. Diet, in this sense, is not a declaration of war on fat. It is a declaration of war on our imperfect and deadly humanity. Is it worth it?’ — Gazeta do Povo

‘Christopher E. Forth’s FAT is the definitive overview of what bodily excess means and has meant in Western society. In a world of ever expanding waistlines, our collective obsession with weight remains the last arena where bodily difference is defined by Victorian morality: the fat are the undeserving poor of today’s medical world, responsible for their own decline, the object of derision and indeed of a very different sense of their own culpability for their state. Forth’s dramatic account of how we got to this point, written with grace and a touch of irony, points out that no other bodily state, not sexual orientation, not addiction, not mental illness, remains so totally demonized as the world of the XXXXL. A vital and critical addition to the cultural history of the body by a master of the genre.’ — Sander L. Gilman, author of Fat: The Biography

‘This is a distinctive and ambitious analysis, tracing body imagery from the classical period to the present and offering a striking argument about the relevance of past standards to contemporary debates. The book also offers a strong case for the interconnections between historical and scientific assessments.’ — Peter N. Stearns, Professor of History at George Mason University, and author of Fat History

‘Christopher Forth is a myth-buster. This is the book to read if you are wondering why people in the West are so obsessed with fat.’ — Joanna Bourke, Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London and author of The Story of Pain (2017) and What It Means To be Human (2013)

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Christopher E. Forth is the Dean’s Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Kansas, and the author of several books including Masculinity in the Modern West (2008).

Introduction: Life in the Wrong Place

1 The Stuff of Life: Thinking and Doing with Fat
2 Fertile Ambiguities: The Agricultural Imagination
3 Ancient Appetites: Luxury and the Geography of Softness
4 Christian Corpulence: The Belly and What Lies Beneath
5 Noble Fat? Corpulence in the Middle Ages
6 The Fat of the Land; or, Why a Good Cock is Never Fat
7 Spartan Mirages: Utopian Bodies and the Challenges of Modernity
8 Grease and Grace: The Disenchantment of Fat?
9 Savage Desires: ‘Primitive’ Fat and ‘Civilized’ Slenderness
10 Bodily Utopianism: Modern Dreams of Transcendence
Conclusion: Purity, Lightness and the Weight of History

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Photo Acknowledgements