One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair by Allan Peterkin is a historical/sociological/psychological study of facial hair throughout the ages. As a man who proudly sports a full beard and mustache combo, I feel a certain camaraderie with my bearded brothers. I think that in recent years, beards are becoming more socially acceptable but it still feels like I am part of a club with other facial hair connoisseurs. Whether you are bearded, mustachioed, or a full out, Victorian mutton-chops kind of guy, One Thousand Beards is a must read.
Roughly the first third of the book is dedicated to the history of facial hair and even the history of shaving. After this point, the next third of the book examines different types of beards such as “The Medical Beard,” “The Feminine Beard,” and “The Gay Beard.” One Thousand Beards finishes up with a return to a more historical and sociological approach that focuses on the twentieth century and the evolution of facial hair in recent times. The book was published in 2001 so there is no information about beards since that time. The book would benefit from an updated edition with an extra chapter to bring One Thousand Beards up to the present day. Regardless, Peterkin covers a lot of ground in the 217 pages (excluding bibliography) and even includes a final chapter about matters such as beard maintenance and guides on growing out different facial hair styles, so if you have always wanted a provocative Clark Gable mustache or a flowing Fu Manchu just follow the simple steps to hairy greatness!
One Thousand Beards features many pictures of amazing facial hair and also
includes quotes relating to hairiness in the margins of most pages. The quotes range from Biblical, to philosophical, to excerpts from early twentieth century cleanliness guides which tend to be unapologetic anti-beard publications. Some of the guides are vitriolic enough against facial hair to make a bearded reader feel like part of a persecuted minority group. The pictures of famous people and their hairy masterpieces are as abundant as their whiskers. One entire chapter is dedicated to famous beards and their wearers with sections titled “All-Stars in the Facial Hair Firmament” and “Hairy Cartoon Villains.” Peterkin shows off the beard in all of its glory but also includes many photos of epic mustaches, sideburns, and any other style imaginable.
Although One Thousand Beards is an excellent read, it does suffer from a couple of flaws. For one, the author tends to insert his own comments in parenthesis throughout the book more often than I would prefer. At times his observations are witty and funny, and at other times they fall a bit flat. Additionally, the sections that discuss psychoanalysis, along with all of the Oedipal fun that psychoanalysis entails, as well as the idea that beards are a reaction against feminism are a bit far fetched. Some may ascribe to these theories, but for many readers these sections will seem alien and confusing rather than poignant. Thankfully, these argument only take up one chapter and the author does not seem to wholly agree with them, but is merely presenting them as possible explanations for the growth of facial hair.
Overall, One Thousand Beards is a fascinating account of facial hair that also features many of the most famous bearded men throughout history. Any man who has a beard or even is curious about them should give One Thousand Beards a try, although many women may find the book to be insightful as well. Bearded men unite!