18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Setting the standard., 15 Dec 2002
I'm not totally sure what Desmond Morris' job title is, but you can guarantee that anthropology, psychology and evolutionary history all come into it somewhere. I have always regarded him as the scientist who uses logical methods to explain apparently illogical stimulus.
For instance, in this tome, Morris deals with, broadly speaking, the science of body language. It is something that affects us every day and we don't really realise just how much, despite everyone having heard the statistics. Morris attempts to use totally emotionally detached methods to arrive at conclusions which explain how we automatically react to someone in ways we don't even think about.
The title (switched recently to Peoplewatcher after the more extreme feminists confused the term "Man" with the noun and not the scientific description of the species) hints at the way Morris carries out his research. He observes people as one would observe lions or apes - doubtless a hangover from his work with animals. Incidentally his other work such as Babywatcher, Catwatcher and so on all utilise the same method. The results make sense not only in terms of scientific reasoning, but also tie in with things you begin to realise you had subconsciously noticed all along.
The book progresses in a logical way. Each chapter is one small category in the broad expanse of the world of body language, and divides itself up into many sub-categories. As an example, the book starts with a chapter on Actions. This covers inborn actions, discovered actions, trained actions, absorbed actions and mixed actions. From here we move on to Gestures, which again covers incidental gestures, expressive gestures, mimic gestures, and so on.
All in all there are over 60 chapters of this kind, all broken up into their sub-categories. This alone should confirm that Morris leaves absolutely nothing out of his study. In addition to 'pure' body language he explores some hang-ons of our evolutionary past such as the clothes we choose to wear, fighting behaviour, the human fascination with art and many other diverse subjects which help explain who we are and where we come from. In essence you are gaining two books - one which covers absolutely EVERYTHING about body language, and another which is more anthropological and helps you to understand how humans got to be the way they are.
This makes it a fascinating read. It serves as a great introduction to those new to body language and serves them well. You can skim over any chapter that does not interest you and, if you like, just find out how your posture can affect people's reactions to you. If you want to read further then like me you'll read the whole book through. And probably come back to it more than once.
In terms of criticism, there is only one minor point to be made: those looking for a 'quick-fix' way to improve their body language will not find it here. Morris places emphasis on what each gesture means and why it exists, but does not provide exercises or techniques to try out. That is not to say that you cannot improve your body language immensely, it just means that you have to read between the lines and start trying what you have learned out for yourself. Morris ensures that the reader does not merely aquire knowledge - but that he or she understands it as well.
The subtitle of this book is "The Body Language Bible". It is not misleading. Essential reading for anyone who is genuinely interested in increasing their understanding about why we react to things the way we do.