Adam's Navel

A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form


Spanish translation

U.K. hardback

British paperback

Korean translation

Taiwanese translation

Simplified Chinese translation

U.S. hardback
U.S. paperback
German translation

"Sly and sardonic"


"Highly informative, linguistically brilliant"


"Anyone who hasn't read Adam's Navel should do so"

Tim Gunn

"Sims has a rare talent"


"Endlessly amusing"

NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, Notable Books of the Year

"A fascinating chocolate box of a book"


"Entertaining, witty and erudite"

John Banville, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW (lead review)

"What an intelligent, original book!"

Alberto Manguel

"Brilliant. . . .Fast paced and flows with amazing fluidity"

KIRKUS (United Kingdom)

"Highly erudite. A quite remarkable compendium"


"Treasure trove of knowledge"


"Wise, funny and fascinating"


"Erudition that has the enchantment of narrative"


★ "Entwines physiology and culture. . . . Great fun"


"A truly eclectic mix of cultural, scientific and literary perspectives"


"Lively and enjoyable"

DAILY MAIL (England)

"A rollicking 'fantastic voyage' over the surface of the body"


"A splendidly engaging trove"


"Sims is a science raconteur—informative, entertaining, and never, ever dull"


"A work genuinely wide-eyed and innocent, amazed at everything"


"Sims' lavish, accomplished prose infuses you with a delicious awareness of your own physicality"


"A brilliant idea, executed with panache"


"Sims displays an astonishing erudition and great feeling"

Frans de Waal

"Something of an all-rounder and clearly as comfortable writing about science as the arts"

THE TIMES (London)

"Extraordinary facts about our bodies"


"Delicious prose"


"An entertaining guide"

EL PAIS (Madrid)

"Exhilarating stuff, the product of a lively, learned and delightfully idiosyncratic mind"


"Will awaken readers to the sensual and symbolic richness our flesh is heir to"

Marilyn Yalom

"A Noah's Ark of our obsessions"


"Lively and wide-ranging"


"Sims reveals his brain to be one of nature's many miracles"


"Charming and tasteful"


"Fascinating and very fun"



A New York Times Notable Book

A Library Journal Best Science Book

Featured in the New York Times Book Review, in a lead review by Booker-winning Irish novelist John Banville

Rave reviews from Britain, Australia, India, Spain, China, Germany, Korea, and elsewhere

Praised in the U.S. from Self to Entertainment Weekly, from the Washington Post Book World to Discover

Excerpted in the Chronicle of Higher Education

Selected by the Discovery Channel Book Club, the Quality Paperback Book Club, and Reader's Subscription

Taught in university-level advanced writing classes, art classes, and medical classes


"In chapters kicking off with the skin and ending with the feet and toes, [Sims] presents a most readable, and often delightfully funny, piece of literature which draws on a wealth of resource material. There is a cornucopia of interesting information about things one would normally not even think about. . . . An absolute delight."
—Kin Bentley, THE HERALD (South Africa)

"Anyone who hasn't read Adam's Navel: a Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form by Michael Sims should do so. It's not only riveting, but it will give you insight into why so many of us are plagued with back problems."
—Tim Gunn, author of A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style; fashion guru, Project Runway mentor (when asked to recommend a book he loves)

"Beginning with the skin and hair, moving through the sensory and sexual organs to the soles of the feet, the American science journalist and author Michael Sims deals with all external parts of the human body. Sims not only explains in detail how the different body parts are constructed and what functions they serve; he also undertakes a number of excursions in which he treats their cultural history in an exemplary manner. A highly informative, linguistically brilliant, long essay."
—Frank Ufen, WIENER ZEITUNG (Austria)

"Michael Sims has a rare talent. He explains the functions of the body so vividly that we have no trouble understanding them immediately. He never sounds dry or didactic, rather amusing and light-hearted. Effortlessly Sims links scientific knowledge with excursions into cultural history. The book is a most enjoyable trip around and through the body. Learning has rarely been so much fun."
—Johannes Kaiser, Deutschlandradio Kultur

"Michael Sims is often finely ironic as he shares his treasure trove of knowledge, and in a clear manner he provides the basis for both a physical and a cultural history."
—Sylvia Staude, Frankfurter Rundschau

"An endlessly amusing essay. . . ."
New York Times Book Review, Notable Books of the Year

"Each [chapter] bursts at the seams . . . . A fascinating chocolate box of a book."
—Daniel Campi, Barcelona Metropolitan

"Like many of the body parts that come under his scrutiny in "Adam's Navel," [Sims] is a hangover from another age, yet well adapted to his own time. He has the breadth, if not the depth, of Montaigne or Robert Burton or Sir Thomas Browne, the whimsical omnivorousness of the 18th-century essayists, and he is as bigheartedly inclusive as Samuel Johnson, one of his particular heroes. . . . Nothing is too large or too small to merit Sims's attention. . . . This is an entertaining, witty and erudite jackdaw's nest of a book. Sims seems not only to have read everything, the trivial as well as the lofty, but to have remembered all of it. The range of reference is dizzying."
John Banville,
New York Times Book Review (lead review)

"What an intelligent, original book! Sims is able to take us—our bodies—apart and show us the ways in which we see ourselves, with wisdom, wit and unobtrusive erudition. Utterly delightful."
Alberto Manguel, author of Reading Pictures and A History of Reading

"Highly erudite. A quite remarkable compendium of fact, fantasy, myth and personal musings on the topic of the human body."
—Judith Warner, Washington Post Book World

"Each chapter is an appealingly ribald mixture of cultural reference, anecdotage, and insights from fields of psychology, anthropology, sexual politics, and evolutionary theory. . . . The finest chapters . . . are simultaneously wise, funny and fascinating, and provide the perfect environment in which Sims's drollery can flourish."
—Robert Macfarlane,
The Sunday Times Magazine (London)

"In his witty and informative top-to-bottom tour of the human anatomy, Sims gleans marvelous nuggets from medical and historical texts . . . and sets them against illustrative references from pop culture and the arts. . . . Sly and sardonic . . . this body—and bawdy—Baedeker should inspire readers to do some navel-gazing of their own."
—Wook Kim, Entertainment Weekly

"It would seem that this is material fit for an anatomy lesson, but in reality in this collection the author, in twelve steps, takes us on a tour that allows him to celebrate that which is admirable in the physiological specialization of each part of the human body as well as their adaptation for social uses. . . . Michael Sims combines elements of the cultural and literary tradition, of art history and psychoanalysis, with an erudition that has the enchantment of narrative."
—Xavier Laborda Gil, Linguistica en la Red; Professor of Linguistics at the University of Barcelona

★ "A lighthearted exploration of the human body, drawing on myth, religion, art, pop culture, history, biology, and any other -ology that suits the purpose here: to delight, astound, and inform. . . . For each part [Sims] entwines physiology and culture, elucidating how a part functions, what it has come to mean, how it has entered our language and literature. Anecdotes abound. . . . This can be opened at any page. . . . Densely packed with fascinating information. . . . Great fun."
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"Michael Sims' clever new book . . . is a truly eclectic mix of cultural, scientific and literary perspectives on the bits and pieces that make up a human body. . . . In his engaging, reader-friendly romp down the body, Sims keeps the course easy and mostly free of complex technical details. . . The message to the reader is to think, but to have a good time doing so."
—Deborah Blum, Minneapolis Star-Tribune; Pulitizer Prize winner, former president of the National Association of Science Writers, board member of the World Federation of Science Journalists

"Lively and enjoyable." —Daily Mail (England)

"There's an entertaining fact on nearly every page, covering a wide range of subjects, from why human hair appears to grow after death to what French kissing was called in France. . . . Sims marshals his disparate stories and facts into a cohesive whole with frequent humorous asides and poetic waxings. It all adds up to a rollicking 'fantastic voyage' over the surface of the body."
Publishers Weekly

"A splendidly engaging trove of stuff about our anatomical parts. . . . Sims is best at linking ideas and things: Think of it as literary hand-eye coordination."
—Jerome Weeks, Dallas Morning News

"Erudite, witty, entertaining. . . . This book stands firmly with the best popular science writing of today, a sort of fusion of the late Stephen Jay Gould with generous helpings of Mark Twain and Edward Abbey. . . . With Adam's Navel, [Sims] comes into his own as what I can only describe as a science raconteur—informative, entertaining, and never, ever dull."
—Michael E. Jackson, The Tennessean

"Adam's Navel is that rare thing, a work genuinely wide-eyed and innocent, amazed at everything."
—Ian Sansom, The Guardian (England)

"Reading . . . Adam's Navel is an interactive experience. Sims' lavish, accomplished prose infuses you with a delicious awareness of your own physicality, and you will want to investigate firsthand this fleshy object you inhabit. . . . Chapters are ordered according to body part, so if you pruriently desire to skip directly to the genitals, you can."
—Kim Rollins, MSNBC

"A brilliant idea, executed with panache...."
The Good Book Guide

"From Louis Armstrong's hurting lips to Dracula's prehensile toes, readers will be taken on a whirlwind tour of the human body. Culture confers meaning to every nook and cranny of our imortal coil., In exploring this nature/culture interface, Michael Sims displays an astonishing erudition and great feeling."
Frans de Waal, primatologist at Emory, author of Chimpanzee Politics and The Ape and the Sushi Master

"Something of an all-rounder and clearly as comfortable writing about science as the arts, Michael Sims .... is capable of explaining the science of the human body to both the uninformed and the well-read. . . . Entertaining asides abound."
—Steve Jelbert, The Times (London)

"Everybody bare your body now! The human body has been one of the favorite subjects of study since time immemorial and yet there are a number of amazing facts about it that ordinary people have no clue about.. Adam's Navel reveals some of the most extraordinary facts about our bodies."
The Times of India

"Our bodies are typically overworked, underworked, or just neglected. But for Michael Sims the body is a site of fascination, to which he applies delicious prose."
The Australian

"An entertaining guide to the companion that we do not get to choose on our journey through life."
—Elias Fereres, El Pais (Madrid)

"A fascinating, witty and startlingly original head-to-toe tour of the human body.... This is, frankly, exhilarating stuff, the product of a lively, learned and delightfully idiosyncratic mind. Sims is eloquent in his conviction that 'an acquaintance with a wide variety of cultural and scientific topics enriches my experience of walking through the day.'... Sims adds: 'We perceive everything through the body; we express everything through the body; therefore culture seems to be an emanation from the body.'"
—Alden Mudge, BookPage

"Though we can imagine the angelic, we are fundamentally corporeal beings, as Michael Sims makes abundantly clear in his witty and informative book, Adam's Navel. Sims invites us to rediscover the body through a bemused observation of its manifold parts, natural history, and colorful lore. This marvelous mix of anatomy and culture will awaken readers to the sensual and symbolic richness our flesh is heir to."
Marilyn Yalom, sociologist at Stanford, author of A History of the Breast and A History of the Wife

"A Noah's Ark of our obsessions with the most powerful symbol in history, the human body. From Shakespeare to pop culture, Sims lays the body bare."
The Big Issue (England)

"From Houdini's toes (astonishingly dexterous) to Charlton Heston's hair (prophetically regal), Sims surveys the ways in which cultural ingenuity has embellished and interpreted the biological endowments of the human body. . . . Sims entertains us with the amazing strategies humans have devised for displaying, manipulating, and encoding our body parts. . . . A lively and wide-ranging excursion."
—Bryce Christensen, Booklist

"[Sims] combines the oddball humor of columnist Dave Barry and the brainpower of the evolutionary historian Stephen Jay Gould. . . . [He] reveals his brain to be one of nature's many miracles. . . . In Sims' capable hands, what could have been a dry biology dissertation is an erudite, quirky exploration of our bodies."
Herald-Sun (Durham NC)

"A most charming and tasteful book. . . . Filled with quotable lines and anecdotes."
—Dennis Lythgoe, Desert News (Salt Lake City)

"Fascinating and very fun."
— Leonard Gill, The Memphis Flyer

"Brilliant. . . . Sims dissects each body part or area and exposes little-known facts, historical curios and, occasionally, ludicrous forays into human unease about corporeal existence. The title, of course, refers to the heated dispute as to whether or not Adam and Eve had navels, with their threatening imputation of mammalian parentage. The writing is fast paced and flows with amazing fluidity between apparently disconnected topics. . . . The chapter on hands deals as effortlessly with crucifixion as carpal tunnel syndrome. . . . There's a hilarious anecdote about the Japanese doll-makers for the original Barbie [and] an intriguing discussion, for anyone unaware of the tradition, of the symbolism attached to Jesus's circumcised foreskin and the multiple supposed relics thereof. . . ."
Kirkus Reviews (United Kingdom)