April 24, 1987

Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin

Author Affiliations

University of Missouri Medical Center Columbia

University of Missouri Medical Center Columbia


by Ashley Montagu, ed 3; 494 pp, $18.95, paper $9.95, New York, Harper & Row Publishers Inc, 1986.

JAMA. 1987;257(16):2223. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390160109042

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Science fiction need not be only about alien worlds, HAL-series guidance systems, and starships, but may also focus on such commonplace subjects as the skin. If we wish to understand certain odd but popular schools of sociology and anthropology, it is best to recognize them as commercial journalism, dressed up, like Ashley Montagu's Touching, in new titles and presumptions. Montagu, distinguished as a teacher and successful as an author (more than 60 books), has produced many works that typify this colorful trade.

As is usual in commercial journalism, the emphasis is on intellectual tricks and quick charm, rather than precise exposition, so we read about the skin as the "largest organ," "neglected," and "a tissue of human contact." We learn of "the thumb as a substitute for mother" or "sex as a language" (?) and focus far too much on the presumed worldview of monkeys. We consider the "centrifugal approach" and