Books & Arts | Published:

The eye of the beholder

Naturevolume 441page697 (2006) | Download Citation


On Seeing: Things Seen, Unseen and Obscene

Overlook/Duckworth: 2006. 224 pp. $24.95/£14.99 1585676748 0715635360 | ISBN: 1-585-67674-8

Frank Gonzalez-Crussi is a pathologist, well versed in how we see, although here he focuses on what we see, and on what, for obscure reasons, are rejected by eye and mind. This disportment in art and medicine is rewarding thanks to the power of the writing to carry the reader safely to “things seen, unseen and obscene”. These include the body, viewed from inside and outside with a medical gaze; French literature and history (with a hilarious account of the start of the Revolution triggered by a pair of royalist voyeurs); belief; and sin. A principal theme is the attraction and repulsion of the anatomical focus of femininity to the male eye, which induces a fascinated fear, rather like standing on the edge of cliff.

Gonzalez-Crussi suggests reasons for why anatomy was so slow to develop as a science, including the inability to make effective use of detailed knowledge before anaesthetics. But has a lack of rapid use impeded other sciences? If it is inhibition associated with prurience that held back the study of anatomy, it is unfortunate that this book was not available centuries ago. It can be enjoyed for its broad learning, and its broad humour.

Author information


  1. Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1HH, UK

    • Richard Gregory


  1. Search for Richard Gregory in:

About this article

Publication history


Issue Date



By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Newsletter Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing