Of Beards and Men makes the case that today's bearded renaissance is part of a centuries-long cycle in which facial hairstyles have varied in response to changing ideals of masculinity. Christopher Oldstone-Moore explains that the clean-shaven face has been the default style throughout Western history--see Alexander the Great's beardless face, for example, as the Greek heroic ideal. But the primacy of razors has been challenged over the years by four great bearded movements, beginning with Hadrian in the second century and stretching to today's bristled resurgence. The clean-shaven face today, Oldstone-Moore says, has come to signify a virtuous and sociable man, whereas the beard marks someone as self-reliant and unconventional. History, then, has established specific meanings for facial hair, which both inspire and constrain a man's choices in how he presents himself to the world.
This fascinating and erudite history of facial hair cracks the masculine hair code, shedding light on the choices men make as they shape the hair on their faces. Oldstone-Moore adeptly lays to rest common misperceptions about beards and vividly illustrates the connection between grooming, identity, culture, and masculinity. To a surprising degree, we find, the history of men is written on their faces.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-10-26
- Reviewer: Staff
In this engaging study of facial hair through the ages, Oldstone-Moore, a senior lecturer in history at Wright State University, shows how cultural attitudes toward beards and mustaches have shifted and persisted in a cyclical manner. He chronicles the four great beard movements as well as the many times in which clean-shavenness has been the default, noting how beard history fails to reveal fashion cycles at all, presenting instead slower, seismic shifts dictated by deeper social forces that shape and reshape ideals of manliness. Readers will be enlightened as Oldstone-Moore links facial hair to gender perceptions, religious doctrine, military discipline, philosophical schools of thought, and more. He reluctantly admits that the book is limited geographically primarily to North America and Western Europe, but historically, it does stretch from ancient Mesopotamia to the modern day. This is a great book for anyone whos ever pondered why Jesus is portrayed with a beard, wondered about the origin of Hitlers and Stalins mustaches, speculated why the Amish grow beards but shave their moustaches, or realized that no U.S. presidential candidate has sported facial hair since Dewey lost to Truman. After this, readers may rethink their own grooming habits, and theyll never take that morning shave for granted again. Agent: Malaga Baldi, Baldi Agency. (Jan.)