Confrontations with naked human bodies can provoke powerful, and often contradictory, impressions and feelings. Just as they might either thrill or revolt, they can signal innocence or sexiness, frankness or madness, a oneness with nature or a separation from society. Advertisers and the media are very aware of the complex and highly subjective associations that most of us have towards nakedness, and use images incessantly to compete for our attention. Yet mystics have embraced nudity to get closer to God or to some other remote power, while political activists have discovered that baring all is one of the most effective ways to gain publicity for a cause.
In A Brief History of Nakedness, Philip Carr-Gomm traces our preoccupation with nudity in three distinct areas of human endeavour: religion, politics and popular culture. Rather than study the history of the fine-art nude, or detail the ways in which the naked body has been denigrated or imprisoned, this book explores new territory – revealing the ways in which religious teachers, politicians, protestors and cultural icons have used nudity to enlighten or empower themselves, or simply to entertain us.
From the naked sages of India and St Francis of Assisi to modern-day druids and Christian nudists, from The Full Monty and Calendar Girls to Lady Godiva and Lady Gaga, A Brief History of Nakedness surveys the touching, sometimes tragic, and often bizarre story of our relationship with our own and with others' naked bodies.
‘Philip Carr-Gomm has an idea: Stop reading and take off your clothes’ – Chronicle of Higher Education To read the full review please click here.
‘Being naked in public can be fun, or naughty, or provocative, or health-giving, or political. It is almost always illegal. And, as anyone who has visited a nudist resort can testify, it is rarely, if ever, sexy. But, as Philip Carr-Gomm reveals in his academic romp through two millenniums of public exhibitionism from the ancient Greeks to animal-rights activists, you can be naked anywhere. You are only nude if someone is watching. Nakedness on its own is straightforward – it’s the context and the audience of nudity that make it interesting . . . wonderful illustrations’ – Sunday Times
‘Once you’ve finished this thought-provoking book, go back to the mirror. Slip off the bathrobe and have another look. Unless you were reading it in the waiting room of a plastic surgeon, nothing much will have changed. Yet something seems different. If it weren’t anatomically impossible, you’d swear your whole body was smiling.’ – Daily Telegraph
‘[An] entertaining and copiously illustrated history’ – The Guardian
‘Carr-Gomm provides a readable and intriguing survey of this ever-engrossing subject’ – The Independent
‘an accessible and often amusing examination of nudity’s associations with authority, authenticity and honesty’ – Financial Times
‘Carr-Gomm's lively relish for his subject and the intelligent use of illustration in this attractively produced book . . . make it an engaging addition to the literature of the naked human form.’ – Seven Magazine
‘An erudite examination of the layers of contradictions that have surrounded our approaches to nakedness.’ – Time Out
‘A grown-up book about the excitement – and humour – of surrendering the mystery of clothes.’ – Evening Standard
‘Philip Carr-Gomm’s lushly illustrated book takes a long and enthusiastic look at the politics and culture of nakedness. Nudism attracts eccentrics, and their stories, he feels, deserve to be told . . . thought-provoking’ – The Economist
‘This fascinating and richly-illustrated book traces the history of humanity’s preoccupation with nakedness, revealing the ways in which bare bodies have been used to enlighten, empower or simply entertain us.’ – The Bookseller
‘Lucid, economical and witty . . . at once informed and conversational . . . underpinned by a great deal of research and a wealth of historical detail.’ – Cultural Sociology
‘This thought-provoking and entertaining read is touching, tragic and bizarre.’ – Sunday Tasmanian
'this book is as fun as history gets’ – Smutters Lounge
‘Not only the best book on its subject, but a marvellous read: racy, compassionate, candid and perceptive.’ – Ronald Hutton, Professor of History, University of Bristol
‘In this lucid and wide-ranging book Phillip Carr-Gomm . . . strips bare the paradoxes of humanity’s attitude toward its own naked figures. Using a snappy blend of history and imagery, he invites readers to join him in making thrilling, confusing, funny, and beautiful realizations about that simultaneously mysterious and obvious state of unclothedness. From the rituals of witchcraft to the human art installations of Spencer Tunick to the non-nakedness of the Naked Chef, Carr-Gomm offers the revelation that far from being merely a basic physical state, human nakedness – sacred, obscene – holds the key to understanding politics, culture, and our very nature as human beings.’ – Kathleen Rooney, author of Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object
‘I absolutely loved A Brief History of Nakedness. Besides being an absolutely fascinating read, it contains the most fun, intriguing, and diverse collection of nude photographs anywhere. A must for anyone interested in art, political activism, and cultural studies. This “brief” history must have taken forever to research. It makes me want to rip off my clothes for a good cause immediately.’ – Annie Sprinkle PhD, artist / sexologist
‘A Brief History of Nakedness admirably uncovers religious, political and popular performances of and reactions to nudity in a remarkable array of cultures. Everything from ancient religious devotional practices to recent streaking controversies is discussed in an expert and delightful manner.’ – Dr Graham Harvey, Reader in Religious Studies, The Open University
‘This ought to be something of a classic in its own right, given the depth and eccentricity of the subject. An amazing story. Read it naked.’ – Jonathan Miller of Antimedia
Philip Carr-Gomm is a writer and psychologist. His many books include Sacred Places (2008), Druid Mysteries (2002) and The Book of English Magic (with Richard Heygate, 2009).