John Brewer

Grin City

The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris


Oxford University Press 231pp £22.99 order from our bookshop

Colin Jones’s The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris is a marvellous, engaging and constantly enlightening study, one that is sure to make you purse your lips with pleasure. To judge from the accessible and illuminating mixture of medical, cultural and political history, my Beverly Hills dentist, an Armenian-American with impeccable teeth, a broad smile, ineffable charm and the latest (and least painful) technologies, would have been quite at home in ancien régime Paris. Jones’s book is about teeth and smiles, bodies and culture. In his deftly woven narrative, it becomes clear that the triumphs of late-18th-century French dentistry – professionalisation, a commitment to canine conservation and oral hygiene, skill in making and installing artificial dentures – were a crucial element in the complex process he calls the ‘Smile Revolution’. Only when an open mouth was able to expose white teeth (or, failing that, white dentures), only when dental hygiene dispelled the miasma of halitosis, could a full smile exposing the teeth be countenanced.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,
    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,
    • 'Keynes predicted that future generations would enjoy such an improved standard of living that they might work just… ,