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A Brief History of Nakedness Hardcover – 30 Apr 2010

4.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (30 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861896476
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861896476
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 772,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


'Being naked in public can be fun, or naughty, or provocative, or health-giving, or political. It is almost always illegal. And, as anyone who has visited a nudist resort can testify, it is rarely, if ever, sexy. But, as Philip Carr-Gomm reveals in his academic romp through two millenniums of public exhibitionism from the ancient Greeks to animal-rights activists, you can be naked anywhere. You are only nude if someone is watching. Nakedness on its own is straightforward it's the context and the audience of nudity that make it interesting . . . wonderful illustrations' --Sunday Times

'Once you ve finished this thought-provoking book, go back to the mirror. Slip off the bathrobe and have another look. Unless you were reading it in the waiting room of a plastic surgeon, nothing much will have changed. Yet something seems different. If it weren't anatomically impossible, you'd swear your whole body was smiling.' --Daily Telegraph

'An erudite examination of the layers of contradictions that have surrounded our approaches to nakedness.' --Time Out

About the Author

Philip Carr-Gomm is a writer and psychologist. His many books include Sacred Places, Druid Mysteries and The Book of English Magic (with Richard Heygate).

Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is not a scientific poll - it is somewhere between conjecture and speculation.

Half of us sleep naked, to the despair of pajama manufacturers. Half of us walk naked around our own houses. Of those who have their own private swimming pools, 90 per cent swim in them naked. Half the British population has stripped for a charity calendar. Perhaps.

Men and women are equally interested in nakedness - being naked and seeing other people naked. It is claimed that half those studying bare breasts in The Sun every day are female.

There are some national differences in the approach to nakedness. One does not dare go bare in Saudi Arabia, for example. Oddly, the farther north you go, the more people seem to revel in the pleasure of nudity. The Finns are very keen, of course, as are the Swedes. The Germans attend vast public baths in which nudity is obligatory. There is still plenty of nudity even in chilly Britain where we have established naked bike rides (although this sounds uncomfortable), nude days at theme parks, lots of nude beaches, and mediatised nudity on a heroic scale. Nude is no longer especially rude.

Still, nudity is a subject of endless fascination for everybody - moral philosophers, psychologists, artists, editors - but it is a complicated subject. There is a place where nudity segues to perversity and becomes in itself a symptom of madness. What are we to make of all this flesh?

It is timely that Philip Carr-Gomm, a writer in Lewes, Sussex who specialises normally in the mystical and Druidic, should have authored A Brief History of Nakedness (Reaktion Books, London, 2010).
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Format: Hardcover
This review was originally published in Pagan Dawn magazine, Lammas 2010.

There are many historical associations between nakedness and mysticism, magic and witchcraft, across the world. Some modern Pagans go naked in their rites as a spiritual and magical practice. Most have probably swum naked, few seem troubled by other's nudity whether clad or not themselves, and very few indeed would confuse anything as important as morality with keeping the body covered at all times. All Pagans have skin, and few of us seem particularly anxious about that. For many, it probably carries some echoes of the romanticised, ancient, Arcadian, vision of oneness with Nature found in Ovid's Fasti, where: "People lived in the open and went about nude, Inured to heavy downpours from rain-filled winds." (II. 33-4 (Kline, 2004)).

This latest book from Philip Carr-Gomm, familiar to Pagan Dawn readers as Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), should therefore interest quite a few Pagans. He offers `A Brief History of Nakedness', not in any remotely prurient spirit, but as a lively, well-written and thoughtful consideration of the many meanings nudity can have for those who, in some circumstances, choose to go naked, and the many ways these behaviours can be construed by the wider society. In his words: "...though nakedness simply represents our natural embodied state, in the course of human evolution it has come to act as a catalyst for a host of contradictory thoughts, feelings and activities, in a way that has created a story which is at times tragic, at times touching, and often bizarre.
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Format: Hardcover
A Brief History of Nakedness, by Philip Carr-Gomm

Reviewed by Rev. Mark Townsend

In the year 2000, while still an Anglican priest, I attended a desert ritual in New Mexico involving bare flesh, ritual drumming and dancing around a fire. Far from this being a Pagan rite, I was amongst Catholics celebrating a sacramental rite of passage. This, of course, is atypical, and most Christians would not associate the positive use of nakedness with their religion. `A Brief History of Nakedness' by Philip Carr-Gomm, however, reveals that my experience in the desert, while exceptional, is not unique, and that the relationship between Christianity and nakedness is by no means confined to a rejection of nudity as shameful.

A third of Carr-Gomm's book is devoted to a narrative hardly explored in religious studies: the way in which it has been used by the religious to get closer to the Divine. Beginning with a survey of the use of nudity in Witchcraft and modern Paganism, the book leads readers back in time to its use in antiquity: in Greece, Rome and Persia. After moving to the East, in particular to explore the Jain and Hindu Naga Baba traditions, the author then provides an extensive and detailed description of the use of nakedness in Judaism and Christianity. To me this was the most exciting section of the book. I learned that, far from being a state to be avoided, nudity was welcomed by many Christian sects and individuals, beginning with Jesus himself, who was baptised and crucified naked. The Old Testament prophets were sometimes naked, and St. Francis of Assisi stripped in front of the Bishop as a sign of rejection of worldliness when he decided to renounce his wealthy life and become a poor brother.
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