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Skin By: Nina G. Jablonski (Book Commentary)

paoli.roman's picture

 Book Commentary


            Biology is a difficult topic to understand but a very important one to keep handy. Arrays of topics that deal with the biological field emerge everyday and scientists from all over the world try their best to decipher them and apply them to everyday life.  Books, journals, magazines, lectures, etc are organized to introduce these concepts to the public for their best interest. These resources are provided and concocted for the mere purpose of education and by spreading important information the public can acquire new comprehension of biology and apply it into their daily lives. In this book commentary piece, I will be commenting and summarizing a biological view and study, as well as an anthropological view, on skin.

            The title itself is straightforward, Skin. By now one already has an idea of the book’s entirety. Anthropologist Nina G. Jablonski composed an ethnographical study on skin. Her book has 11 chapters that surround and elucidate on the importance, variety, functions, and complexity of skin. In chapters 1 through 7 she gives the biological structure and purpose of skin such as hair, color, sweat, and touch; these being the central or most occurring outcomes that happen within or to the skin. For example in this section one could read about how external influences affect the different layers of the skin its cell production, color, and texture. In chapters 8 through 11 Jablonski explores different types of skin from all over the world and how different societies modify the skin according to their culture, practices, or beliefs. For example the art of tattooing is seen as taboo in some cultures but in other it is a symbol of their way of life.  Jablonski provides an array of material about human and animal skin; for instance the similarities between the skins of different species is highlighted and made clear for the public to understand that humans are not as different from a hippopotamus as it may seem.

            Books are an amazing invention! They allow people to submerge themselves completely being able to imagine and understand worlds that are unexplainable. The book skin has allowed me to understand one of the most vital organs of the body. The importance of the human skin has been researched and tested many times; and in fact we will not be able to live without it for a long period of time. Jablonski makes the topic of skin extremely interesting; her style of writing is provocative and enthusiastic. The many facts of skin are well organized and explained making this bland subject vibrant and crucial for ones knowledge. The aspect of the book that I found particularly interesting is the cultural section, where Jablonski explores how different societies use their skin as a means of symbolism.

As previously mentioned skin is not a very popular topic amongst everyday conversations. It is, as she explains it, an issue that does indeed need to be addressed and made prevalent to the public’s understanding of health and the body. I have always been cautious about my health, especially being an asthmatic. Now I am just as cautious about my skin as I was before, it’s not that I undervalue my skin, it’s just that I never really understood the importance of its functions and purpose towards my health. I knew the risks the sun has on my skin but I just never really thought that I might have a potential risk for skin cancer. Another important concept that one can interpret from the reading is the idea of racism and how in reality it should not exist since we all have the same layer on the outside but it has simply taken different colors because of the environments we are exposed to. If people educate more on the wonders of the skin and how it functions racism perhaps would be obliterated.  Jablonski’s book raises the issue of skin protection to a high degree, allowing people to be more cautious and understand how to take the proper measures into caring for ones main body shield!

The concept of life and its importance was the main argument attempted to be answered in Biology 103.  Skin is one of the factors that help to make sense of life, the importance and functions/ abilities it allows for the human body is essential for life in general. The relation to the perspective of the topic of life that we have discussed in class to that of skin is very similar. Both topics are extremely difficult to understand but still very important to have background knowledge in. This book is an excellent read and one can become savvier in the topic of Biology by just exposing themselves to literature as this one; skin can seem as not a very important or funny topic to talk about but in reality it can change your perspective of your health immensely.




Jablonski, Nina. Skin. Canada: University of California Press, 2006.


Paul Grobstein's picture

getting under the skin

It is indeed interesting how much commonality we all have, and how much more attention we tend to pay to differences.  Wonder why?