The Finger


In this collision between art and science, history and pop culture, the acclaimed art historian Angus Trumble examines the finger from every possible angle. His inquiries into its representation in art take us from Buddhist statues in Kyoto to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, from cave art to Picasso’s Guernica, from Van Dyck’s and Rubens’s winning ways with gloves to the longstanding French taste for tapering digits. But Trumble also asks intriguing questions about the finger in general: How do fingers work, and why do most of us have five on each hand? Why do we bite our nails?

This witty, odd, and fascinating book is filled with diverse anecdotes about the silent language of gesture, the game of love, the spinning of balls, superstitions relating to the severed fingers of thieves, and systems of computation that were used on wharves and in shops, markets, granaries, and warehouses throughout the ancient Roman world. Side by side with historical discussions of rings and gloves and nail polish are meditations on the finger’s essential role in writing, speech, sports, crime, law, sex, worhsip, memory, scratching politely at eighteenth-century French doors (instead of crudely knocking), or merely satisfying an itch—and, of course, in the eponymous show of contempt.

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By Lillian · September 18, 2013
A scientific and artistic study of, well, the finger. I just love this sort of quirky book, one which, like so many others, I saved from the remainder table. It's written with great dash and style and sense of rhythm, with way too many delightful passages to quote here. I'll mention one:

"While t... ...more
By Margaret (Moorhead, MN) · ★★★☆☆ · July 23, 2011
Continuing to prove my theory that there is a social history of everything: The Social History of Hands and Fingers, with forays into babies' pointing and language acquisition, Ice Age cave painting outlines of hands with fingers missing (frostbite? voluntary mutilation?), base-10 numbering syste... ...more
By Keith (The United States) · ★★★★☆ · February 01, 2013
What a surprising and entertaining little volume this turned out to be. This is the most complete survey of a body part that I could possibly imagine. Four fingers and an opposing thumb have not only impacted our species but also helped create all of our individual cultures. We learn in detail ho... ...more
By Claire (The United States) · ★★★★☆ · February 17, 2012
Delightfully discursive - I would love to sit next to Trumble at a dinner party. His rambling discourse is highly researched and pleasant, but there is little narrative thread tying his essays together (even within the individual essay itself). But his wit and charm make up for it - perhaps his p... ...more
By Debora (Tampa, FL) · ★★★★☆ · August 18, 2013
This is a delectable bit of writing exploring the uses and usefulness of our hands. The author colorfully expounds upon the role our hands play in the masterwork of defining us as human. Lovely and lively! Also, a quick read.