The Remarkable Life of the Skin: An Intimate Journey Across Our Largest Organ

Atlantic Monthly. Jun. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780802129406. $27. SCI
British dermatologist Lyman (Oxford Univ. Hospitals, UK) peels back the layers of our largest and most versatile organ to reveal its physical, social, and psychological features. After describing the skin’s physical structure, he examines myths surrounding the ancient disease of leprosy, the elaborate facial tattooing of the Maori, the skin’s complex relationship with sunlight, and the mechanics and mysteries of our sense of touch. He also highlights contrasting cultural and religious attitudes toward the skin: the popularity of tanning in the West vs. skin bleaching in East Africa; the head-to-toe covering of the skin by Muslim women versus the nakedness of the Hindu sadhu, or holy man. And from acne to vitiglio, Lyman covers skin disorders both common and extremely rare, while weaving in recent research findings and fascinating medical cases.
VERDICT Lyman conveys both the science of the skin as well as its many wonders and paradoxes while imparting much practical advice on its care. At first blush dermatology may not seem the most enticing subject, but this brilliant synthesis will be an engrossing read for anyone interested in human health and biology.

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