The Handshake: A Gripping History by Ella Al-Shamahi - review by Thomas Blaikie

Thomas Blaikie

Before the Elbow Bump

The Handshake: A Gripping History


Profile 166pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

Ella Al-Shamahi, the author of this intriguing history of the handshake, is described as a palaeoanthropologist, evolutionary biologist… and stand-up comic. This reminds me of my friend’s piano person, who has a business card which says, ‘Piano tuner and Alsatian trainer’. It would be unfair to judge this book as stand-up comedy (of President Trump’s handshaking, Al-Shamahi says, ‘I think all the hours of careful examination by experts can be summarised thus: they are the PG-13 version of dick-swinging’), but Al-Shamahi has a reasonable talent for punch lines and a general wackiness that make you think it would be a good thing if more evolutionary biologists were also stand-up comedians.

The writing of The Handshake has been thrown off course rather by the present disagreeable circumstance of handshaking being forbidden by decree. Unfortunately, somebody has felt obliged to put a representation of a bottle of hand sanitiser on the cover. But you can fight past all that to get to

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