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

    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,
    • Domestic scandal, sexual abuse and serial killers are on the menu in April's crime round-up. revie… ,
    • What did Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, James Boswell and Edmund Burke all have in common? Clare Bucknell reveal… ,