Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Booknote: Plucked

Rebecca M. Herzig, Plucked: a History of Hair Removal. New York: New York University Press, 2015. ISBN: 9781479840823. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: microhistories, academic studies
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

As a reader of microhistories, I enjoy books that cover one subject really well. I had high expectations for this book, but I was disappointed. The main problem as a reader is that this is just an academic treatise, and at times it is also very repetitive. Yes, I get it: Native Americans remove their body hair; this was seen as making them less than human to whites, or seen as odd, or any other prejudice. The author could have covered the topic and moved on instead of dragging it on and on and on for pages on end. I think the editor probably did not trim this book enough. By the fifth or so reference to yet another source about Native Americans and hair removal, I was just bored.

The sad thing is the book had potential. There is even some relevance today given that the U.S. has used forced hair removal of prisoners in places like Guantanamo. So, a "history of hair removal in the United States from the colonial era to the present" (12) sounded like an interesting idea. The book covers hair removal, usually voluntary or compulsory. However, "this study does not address the involuntary loss of hair associated with toxic exposures, alopecia, trichotillomania, cancer treatments, or male pattern baldness" (17). The book looks at various treatments and ways to remove hair; the part on chemicals and "patent" remedies was actually somewhat interesting. It just got bogged down in the scholarship, and it reads more like a dry academic paper than actual narrative.

In the end, I just see some academic libraries buying this, maybe for their gender studies programs (the book has much to say on women and depilatory practices, patriarchy, so on) or maybe some advanced history seminar here or there. I am not purchasing for my library unless I get a request. Overall, I did not really like this one.

One of out 5 stars.

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