cover image Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair

Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair

Christopher Oldstone-Moore. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-226-28400-2

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 who’s ever pondered why Jesus is portrayed with a beard, wondered about the origin of Hitler’s and Stalin’s 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 they’ll never take that morning shave for granted again. Agent: Malaga Baldi, Baldi Agency. (Jan.)