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The Human Face
ISBN 0563551887 / 9780563551881 / 0-563-55188-7
Publisher BBC Worldwide
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The coffee-table accompaniment to the BBC television series, The Human Face considers the notion that beauty is indeed only skin-deep, and explores whether we should judge a book by its cover. Supposing we do, it justifies the conceit through a wealth of magnificent colour plates and an explanatory text by John Cleese, who presented the series, and psychologist Brian Bates. If appearance and beauty are a universal concern, our curiosity is nothing compared to psychologists, who produce an endless stream of tests, polls and inquiries into beauty. But this nothing new, in fact, and the Greeks had the answer, and words, for it. The Golden Mean divided the face into three equal sections, with the perfect face conforming to the ratio 1:1.618, where the ratio between the smaller parts to the larger was the same as between the larger parts and the entire face. Astonishing, perhaps, but these almost divine dimensions, used for their statues, persist as models of timeless beauty. The book divides into six sections. Origins follows the oft-quoted paradigm of the span of human existence expressed within the timescale of a single day, with Homo sapiens' after-the-pub late appearance. Identity is discussed in terms of broad genetic and gender terms, while expressions, aka Jim Carrey Studies, looks at developmental, physiological and cultural differences. It occasionally reads like a school biology text, graded to accommodate all-comers, but makes simple points succinctly. Beauty is symmetry, using scientific studies to quantify the instinctual. Ultimately it truly is in the eye of the beholder, though rarely when turned on itself, which is where vanity picks up its cue, looking out of the corner of its eyes at cosmetics, ageing, disfigurement and Madonna. Madonna, of course, also fits into the final chapter on fame, which examines the effect of photography and cinema in transmitting repetitive human images globally. The jazz trumpeter Chet Baker was once asked, in his later years, how his face had gotten so lined. "Laughter lines", he answered. "But, Chet", came the reply, "Nothing's that funny". Ultimately, The Human Face works best as a visual smorgasbord, and its lavish, eye-catching photographs. And in holding our attention, it proves the next best thing to a mirror. --David Vincent [via]