Skin colour is perhaps the most decisive and abused physical characteristic of humankind. This book presents a multidisciplinary overview of how and why human populations vary so markedly in their skin colour. The biological aspects of the pigment cell and its production of melanin are reviewed. The functions of melanin in the skin, brain, eye and ear are considered, and the common clinical abnormalities of pigmentation, such as albinism, are described and illustrated. Detailed reflectance data from worldwide surveys of skin colour are also presented. The historical and contemporary background of the phenomenon is explored in relation to the so-called 'colour problem' in society. Finally, the possible evolutionary forces which shape human pigmentation are assessed. This fascinating account will be of interest to graduate students and researchers of biological anthropology, anatomy, physiology and dermatology, as well as medical practitioners.
"Melanin has probably caused more social injustice than any other molecule in the body, yet few sociologists understand the biology of skin colour and few physicians are conversant with the anthropological, evolutionary, and psychosocial aspects of racial pigmentation. All these topics are crisply and elegantly reviewed in this monograph from a Cape Town pharmacologist. Robins has worked hard to select the essential facts from many disciplines, and the result is a concise yet thorough overview of this important subject." John L. Burton, Lancet "...a crisply written, expert and intelligible survey of the medical and anthropological work on human pigmentation, and both physicians and anthropologists will find uses for it." Times Literary Supplement "...concisely surveys the nature of skin color in humans...not so esoteric that it could not be used by anyone interested in the subjects of human pigmentation, skin color, and race." Choice "...this book is a success. Robins includes a good set of references, and the book is well written. For the topics that he decided to cover, he has done a good job. The book contains a great deal of information and is handy for references." Aaron B. Lerner, New England Journal of Medicine "...a complete and conscientious survey of all that is known about pigmentation in the human species...will be most useful to anyone who wishes to add to that literature, and there is much that could be added, particularly in genetics." Alice M. Brues, American Journal of Human Biology