A History of the Breast

Marilyn Yalom

Knopf, 1997

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

In this provocative, pioneering, and wholly engrossing cultural history, noted scholar Marilyn Yalom explores twenty-five thousand years of ideas, images, and perceptions of the female breast--in religion, psychology, politics, society, and the arts.

Through the centuries, the breast has been laden with hugely powerful and contradictory meanings. There is the "good breast" of reverence and life, the breast that nourishes infants and entire communities, as depicted in ancient idols, fifteenth-century Italian Madonnas, and representations of equality in the French Revolution. Then there is the "bad breast" of Ezekiel's wanton harlots, Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, and the torpedo-breasted dominatrix, symbolizing enticement and aggression. Yalom examines these contradictions--and illuminates the implications behind them.

A fascinating, astute, and richly allusive journey from Paleolithic goddesses to modern day feminists, A History of the Breast is full of insight and surprises. As Yalom says, "I intend to make you think about women's breasts as you never have before." In this, she succeeds brilliantly.

"With wit and dispassionate scholarship, Stanford researcher and feminist scholar Yalom decodes the social constructions of the breast as political symbol of liberty in the French Revolution, idealized domestic comforter in the Dutch golden age, modern advertising commodity and source of titillation in the arts, entertainment, erotica and pornography... Intriguingly and amply illustrated with reproductions of paintings, sculpture, prints, posters, ads and photographs, this enlightening, often surprising cultural history will compel men and women to think differently about the breast."
Publisher's Weekly

"Yalom, a senior scholar at the Institute for Women and Gender at Stanford University... presents a unique analysis of the role that the human female breast has played throughout Western history... Highly recommended for all women's studies collections, as well as collections supporting the social sciences and history."
Library Journal

"[Marilyn Yalom's] newest book, a work of spectacular cultural scope and pleasing fluency, is unprecedented in its subject matter and unusually successful in its blending of the aesthetic with the political." 
Booklist (starred)