Red is the brilliantly told story of the little-known but highly pervasive influence of red hair throughout the history of the world and across all disciplines including science, religion, politics, sexuality and feminism, culture, literature, and art. With approximately 6-18 million redheads in the U.S. there is a built-in audience for the book.
The mere mention of red hair or red-headedness conjures vivid associations. Stereotypes range from the fun-loving scatterbrain Lucille Ball, to the largely mythologized Viking savage, and from the fiery-tempered shrew or the penitent prostitute (Mary Magdalene is almost always depicted as a redhead), to comic foils and long-suffering side-kicks: Danny Partridge (The Partridge Family), Ron Weasley (Harry Potter) Jimmy Olsen (Superman), and Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons), to name a few.
Although the first use of the term 'redde-headed' can be traced as far back as the sixteenth century, the chromosome responsible for red hair was indentified only as recently at 1995. For its first 50,000-year existence, red hair had always been viewed as an unaccountable mystery and, as is often the case with the inexplicable, has therefore been hailed as a sign of divinity, damned as the consequence of breaking sexual taboos, ostracized and persecuted as a marker of religion or race, and vilified or celebrated as an indicator of character. Red: A Natural History of the Redhead is the first book to explore these prejudices and to trace the entire world history of red hair.
The book begins in pre-history, following the gene for red hair as it made its way out of African with the early human diaspora emerging as an evolutionary advantage under Northern skies. It then explores red hair in the ancient world (from the Tarim mummies in China to the Islamic kingdom of the Khazars and their possible contribution to the Ashkenazi Jewish population); prejudice as manifested against red hair across medieval Europe; red hair during the Renaissance as both an indicator of Jewishness during the Inquisition and, simultaneously, the height of fashion in Protestant England, made famous by the Henry VIII and Elizabeth I; the beginnings of the modern age of science, art, and literature and the first positive symbols of red hair in children's characters such as Orphan Annie and Anne of Green Gables, as well as the emergence of red-hair as shorthand for a woman of sexual boldness or an other-worldly nature; modern medicine and science and the genetic and chemical decoding of red hair; and finally red hair in contemporary culture from advertising and exploitation to 'gingerism' and the new movement against bullying.
About the Author
Jacky Colliss Harvey is a writer and editor. She read English at Cambridge University and Art history at the Courtauld Institute. She has worked in museum publishing for the last twenty years and is known as a commentator and reviewer, speaking in both the U.K. and abroad on the arts and their relation to popular culture. At the same time, her red hair has also found her an alternative career as a life model and a film extra playing everything from a society lady in Atonement to a Parisian whore in Bel-Ami. She lives in London.
According to Grant McCracker, author of Big Hair: A Journey into The Transformation of Self (1995), "The study of hair does not take you to the superficial edges of our society... It takes you, instead, to the center of things." In Red, Harvey drills down to that center to find a mother lode of lore and more about the hair color found in just two per cent of the world's population. Beginning with our earliest ancestors and continuing down through the ages, this witty, wide-ranging study examines red hair through the lenses of art, literature, science, sexuality, culture, religion and politics. Fascinating facts abound. For example, we learn that the gene for red hair did not originate in Ireland or Scotland, as we might expect, but in the people who migrated from Africa to the grasslands of central Asia and, eventually, into Europe. Old wives' tales, scientific discoveries, historical accounts, fads in fashion, and trends in the arts are mined to great effect, resulting in a comprehensive and thoroughly enjoyable narrative embellished with stunning illustrations and photographs. Carolyn Mulac, Booklist"