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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Stand Up Straight!

A History of Posture

Our bodies are not fixed. They expand and contract with variations in diet, exercise, and illness. They also alter as we age, changing over time to be markedly different at the end of our lives from what they were at birth. In a similar way, our attitudes to bodies, and especially posture—how people hold themselves, how they move—are fluid. We interpret stance and gait as healthy or ill, able or disabled, elegant or slovenly, beautiful or ugly. In Stand Up Straight!, Sander L. Gilman probes these shifting concepts of posture to explore how society’s response to our bodies’ appearance can illuminate how society views who we are and what we are able to do.

The first comprehensive history of the upright body at rest and in movement, Stand Up Straight! stretches from Neanderthals to modern humans to show how we have used our understanding of posture to define who we are—and who we are not. Gilman traverses theology and anthropology, medicine and politics, discarded ideas of race and the most modern ideas of disability, theories of dance and concepts of national identity in his quest to set straight the meaning of bearing. Fully illustrated with an array of striking images from medical, historical, and cultural sources, Stand Up Straight! interweaves our developing knowledge of anatomy and a cultural history of posture to provide a highly original account of our changing attitudes toward stiff spines, square shoulders, and flat tummies through time.

424 pages | 121 halftones | 6 1/4 x 9 1/4 | © 2018


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“There is a grandeur to certain works of scholarship, a singularity of vision by which genius is defined. In this respect, Gilman’s Stand Up Straight! can be aligned with Simon Schama’s rapturous Landscape and Memory—another masterpiece of romantic historical philosophy—in terms of its cultural significance. . . . Stand Up Straight! is more than a joy to read. It is a privilege to wander the labyrinths of Gilman’s gorgeously eccentric and intricate mind.”


“Ambitious. . . . Gilman’s multidisciplinary approach draws on theology, philosophy, the military, medicine, and art. . . . He deftly threads the striking image of the plumb line throughout, using this trope to turn anecdote into data. . . . Stand Up Straight!’s illustrations are wonderful. . . . Gilman’s authoritative voice marshals a crowd of examples into a cogent, illuminating analysis. . . . What he demonstrates so successfully is that any history of posture is always a history of perception. The title’s bold imperative is a command barked at those whose posture supposedly imperils the nation, causes moral degeneration, or decreases productivity. He has produced a valuable book.”

Times Higher Education

"In this well-illustrated book, the best picture—best because most unexpected—may be the one of a young Adolf Hitler, caught slouching. . . . The photograph comes late in the book, well past the point when I realized that Gilman had written a pointed history of eugenics, pleasantly disguised as a book on posture. . . . Gilman does not actually recommend bad posture as a moral and cultural corrective to the horrific damage eugenics did, and continues to do. All the same, that early photograph of Hitler, all slouch and paunch, reveals a human self-presentation tellingly different from the visibly erect one we know comes later, when pride was twisted and prejudice aestheticized. I recommend this book. I cannot recommend putting it on your head to correct your posture."

Times Literary Supplement

“Gilman illuminates the historical significance of posture in the workplace, in our bodies and minds, in the military, and in culture. Underpinned by medicine, anthropology, and social engineering, never before has race, disability, and citizenship been so astutely linked to the ideal and image of standing up straight. A tour de force analysis, accompanied by extraordinary illustrations.”

Ana Carden-Coyne, University of Manchester

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