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Carol Ann Rinzler – Leonardo’s Foot

September 16, 2013

LibraryThing Early Reviewers69. Leonardo’s Foot: How 10 Toes, 52 Bones, and 66 Muscles Shaped the Human World by Carol Ann Rinzler (2013)

Length: 194 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Microhistory

Started: 25 August 2013
Finished: 29 August 2013

Where did it come from? LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
Why do I have it? A microhistory of a bit of human anatomy sounded like fun.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 10 June 2013.

Maybe it’s feet, not
brains, that have shaped the course of
human history.

Summary: Our feet don’t get enough love. Although Leonardo da Vinci said that “the human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art,” for most of us, are feet carry us through our days without our giving them much thought beyond making sure that our socks match and our shoes stay tied. But Rinzler does her best to remedy that, tackling the ways in which the our feet have been integral to human life and human history. She starts with “Destiny”, in which she addresses the evolution of the foot and an upright posture. She then moves on the “Disability” (the medical and historical ramifications of clubfoot), “Difference” (flat feet and their use as a social and cultural indicator), “Diet” (gout), and “Desire” (you can probably guess).

Review: This book should have been like catnip for me. A microhistory of an anatomical structure, and hey, we know I think anatomy’s cool (see: my extreme geeking out over The Resurrectionist, all tied in with relevant history and biology and culture. I love all of those things, but somehow this book didn’t quite hit the mark. In some ways, it was great: I love books like this as a good source of trivia, and this one had some awesome ones. (a quarter of the bones in the human skeleton are in the feet! Gout was historically a disease of rich white men because the uric acid crystals that cause it are the products of protein metabolism, and rich white men were the ones historically eating most of the meat! The Sistine Chapel ceiling contains an anatomically correct image of a brain!) It even provided me with an anatomical justification for why I’m so picky about my shoes: my extremely high arches mean that I tend to clutch my toes against the ground to get better purchase, so I need something with enough straps to keep them on my feet… but at least those high arches mean I’m probably not a witch! (See? Lots of fun trivia.)

My problem with this book was that I felt like Rinzler was trying to emulate Mary Roach, and that it wound up with her getting in her own way. There were some humorous bits that just fell flat, the writing style often felt a little cumbersome, the tangents and the digressions went on for extended periods without coming back around to the feet, and in general, it wasn’t quite as light and easy as I think she was aiming for. I also really wish there’d been more of an introduction. The current Intro is really more of an Acknowledgements, and I think the book could have used a more factual introduction, going over some of the basic anatomy of the foot (maybe with some labelled diagrams, which are conspicuously absent) before diving into the first chapter and its specific topic.

So, overall, I found this book interesting, and full of good facts, but the writing style wasn’t my favorite, and it kept it from being a total winner. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Even though Rinzler doesn’t have Mary Roach’s knack for easy prose, Roach’s books are still the closest readalikes. If you like that style of microhistory, this one’s got enough interesting information to make it worth your while.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Doing Dewey
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First Line: There are 206 bones in the adult human body.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 94: ““Deliberate chamfering on the front edge shows an attempt to avoid rubbing against the navicular bone on the top of the foot, and the underside of the toe is flat for stability.”” – A flat surface made by cutting off the edge or corner of a block of wood or other material.
  • p. 99: “But if our body makes much too much uric acid or doesn’t eliminated the compound efficiently, blood levils of uric acid rise (a condition known as hyperuricemia) and the excess uric acid crystallizes into sharp needles of monosodium urate, particles that clump together as chalky white tophi.” – A deposit of urates in the skin and tissue around a joint or in the external ear, occurring in gout. Also called chalkstone.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2013 11:11 am

    You’re right – I don’t give my feet much thought. This sounds interesting even if the prose isn’t the smoothest.

    • September 19, 2013 11:19 am

      Kathy – There’s some good information here, it’s just that its organization left a little something to be desired.

  2. September 16, 2013 2:12 pm

    I agree with everything you said about this :) I love microhistories so this should have been a great read, but even the fun facts didn’t save it from the tangents and flat attempts at humor.

    • September 19, 2013 11:21 am

      DD – Oh, good. It’s hard, when something is obviously supposed to be funny but just isn’t, to know whether or not it’s just me that’s not connecting to the author’s sense of humor.

  3. September 30, 2013 8:13 pm

    I do like Mary Roach and microhistories, so I figure I’ll give this a try, with your caveats in mind.


  1. Leonardo’s Foot: How 10 Toes, 52 Bones, and 66 Muscles Shaped the Human World | Science Book a Day

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