I remember my summer of ‘Perfect Skin’. It was 1985 and, home from university, I was working shifts in a canning factory. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ debut album played on permanent repeat during the daily drive. I was lucky: I had escaped the traumas of teenage acne. But I still longed for the ‘cheekbones like geometry’ that Cole soulfully intoned about. Our internal scaffolding and its covering fabric are the subjects of two new additions to the entertaining body parts subgenre of popular science writing. True to type, The Secret Life of Bones by Brian Switek and Monty Lyman’s The Remarkable Life of the Skin are much more than armchair anatomies. Yes, they subject their chosen body parts to an intense gaze, telling us what we are made of, but both authors also have an eye on the whole. They aim to use our bones and skin to reveal who we are and want to be.
At first glance Switek has the harder job. Early in the book he invites us to try a thought experiment to get inside ourselves. While our skin can be experienced via all five senses, the bones are safely hidden away. Our skeleton is appreciated at one remove, through its