Skeleton keys The secret life of bone

Brian Switek

Book - 2019

Bone is as embedded in our culture as it is in our bodies. Our species has made instruments and jewelry from bone, treated the dead like collectors' items, put our faith in skull bumps as guides to human behavior, and arranged skeletons into macabre tributes to the afterlife. Switek makes a compelling case for getting better acquainted with our skeletons, in all their surprising roles. Bridging the worlds of paleontology, anthropology, medicine, and forensics, Skeleton Keys illuminates the ...complex life of bones inside our bodies and out.

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Subjects
Published
New York : Riverhead Books 2019.
Language
English
Physical Description
276 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780399184901
0399184902
Main Author
Brian Switek (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

While the human skeleton stripped of flesh can be a chilling sight during Halloween season, no one doubts its indispensable value in caging organs or helping bodies navigate the world. As an avowed palaeontology buff, Switek (My Beloved Brontosaurus, 2013) admits it took him a while to switch his focus from dinosaur skeletons to human ones, but the result here is a rich exploration of everything our bare bones can teach us about life. Ten anecdote-laden chapters with titles like "Sticks and Stones" and "Bad to the Bone" give readers a smorgasbord of interesting details about calcified curiosities, from bone jewelry to the sugary skulls sold during Mexico's Day of the Dead, while providing the basics about the approximately 206 bones in a healthy adult, from bone structure to function. Switek, however, makes plain that his biggest passion—a carryover from studying dinosaur bones—is forensics, and he does revel in explaining what skeletal breaks, cuts, and chips say about the living person who endured them. Informative, contemplative, and even lyrical, Switek's work is popular-science writing at its best. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

In this book, the author endeavors to chronicle the evolution of our species as revealed through the fossil record, beginning with earliest evidence for bony tissues some 419 million years ago. This is an ambitious objective, which the author admits is a "flip-book version" of the evolutionary history designed to stimulate the reader's interests and curiosity. It also serves as a testament to the wealth of biological and behavioral information that skeletal remains, fossil or otherwise, are capable of providing researchers in a broad range of disciplines, including skeletal biology, paleontology, archaeology, paleopathology, and forensic science. The author's conversational writing style is engaging and entertaining. The book, however, may not meet the expectations of readers looking for a more formal, well-annotated, and illustrated book on the subject. It is worth noting that this book is distinctly different from a book with a similar title, Skeleton Keys: An Introduction to Human Skeletal Morphology, Development, and Analysis, by Jeffrey H. Schwartz (1995). Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and lower-division undergraduates through graduate students.--S. D. Stout, Ohio State UniversitySam D. StoutOhio State University Sam D. Stout Choice Reviews 57:02 October 2019 Copyright 2019 American Library Association.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

This wonderful study by paleontologist Switek (My Beloved Brontosaurus) examines the human body's collection of 206 (or so) bones from a myriad of perspectives. As befits his profession, Switek begins by tracing the origins of various structures in the skeleton back to the distant past, beginning with the protovertebrate Pikaia gracilens. For him, "the very arrangement of our skeletons is a mosaic woven through evolutionary time" that he traces through the development of bone, jaws (with a nod to Peter Benchley), limbs, ears, and more, noting "there is no single moment when our bodies became distinctly human." In this discussion, he covers those skeletal features which humans have lost, such as eye bones. He also devotes an entire chapter to the identification of Richard III's skeleton and even describes the modern trade in human remains. Taking care to acknowledge the negative side of science, Switek considers how anthropology has resulted in the disrespectful handling of human remains, such as during the decades-long legal battle over the ownership of the prehistoric skeleton known as Kennewick Man, and how the pseudoscience of phrenology fed racism. Fittingly, Switek concludes by musing on how he might himself be fossilized. This mix of fact and ethical considerations offers much for science enthusiasts to ponder. Agent: Deirdre Mullane, Mullane Literary Assoc. (Mar.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The author of My Beloved Brontosaurus presents a natural and cultural history of bone that explains how human skeletons evolved over 500 million years, what they do inside the body and how they record a person's history.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Presents a natural and cultural history of bone that explains how human skeletons evolved over five hundred million years, what they do inside the body, and how they record a person's history.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

'A provocative and entertaining magical mineral tour through the life and afterlife of bone.' 'Wall Street Journal Our bones have many stories to tell, if you know how to listen. Bone is a marvel, an adaptable and resilient building material developed over more than four hundred million years of evolutionary history. It gives your body its shape and the ability to move. It grows and changes with you, an undeniable document of who you are and how you lived. Arguably, no other part of the human anatomy has such rich scientific and cultural significance, both brimming with life and a potent symbol of death. In this delightful natural and cultural history of bone, Brian Switek explains where our skeletons came from, what they do inside us, and what others can learn about us when these artifacts of mineral and protein are all we've left behind. Bone is as embedded in our culture as it is in our bodies. Our species has made instruments and jewelry from bone, treated the dead like collectors' items, put our faith in skull bumps as guides to human behavior, and arranged skeletons into macabre tributes to the afterlife. Switek makes a compelling case for getting better acquainted with our skeletons, in all their surprising roles. Bridging the worlds of paleontology, anthropology, medicine, and forensics, Skeleton Keys illuminates the complex life of bones inside our bodies and out.