An entertaining anthropological tour through the big answers to life’s little questions.
Why do farts evoke laughter and disgust? Is the aversion to the left hand universal? Are dogs really humankind’s best friend? Why do we tip wait staff but not teachers? In Silent but Deadly: The Underlying Cultural Patterns of Everyday Behaviour, Kirsten Bell, an anthropologist who has lived in five countries on four continents—and learned about cultural gaffes by constantly committing them—places our everyday behaviours under the microscope.
Boldly going where no anthropologist has gone before, no topic is too small or insignificant for Bell’s attention, whether it’s washing machines in kitchens, buying rounds at the pub, toilet paper, or swearing. The kind of book Jared Diamond might write if he was more concerned with the meanings of bodily emissions than the collapse of civilizations, Silent but Deadly deciphers the cultural patterns that underlie our everyday quirks, foibles, and habits.
Praise for Silent but Deadly
‘Silent but Deadly is one of the best books out there that explains anthropology to a lay audience—I often cite it to non-anthropologists who want to get a sense of the discipline. It is clever, lucid, engaging and easy to read—and has both the credibility to appeal to academic anthropologists and the clarity to make sense to non-academics. A fabulous read—I recommend it strongly’ — Gillian Tett, Provost, King’s College, University of Cambridge; Chair, Editorial Board, Financial Times; author of Anthro-Vision.
‘A politically-engaged anthropology student from Africa once told me that his greatest pleasure was wiping his backside on the college toilet paper—each sheet of which was stamped, “Property of HM Government”. Neither of us at the time thought this was the stuff of anthropology but we were wrong. Kirsten Bell in Silent but Deadly brings her learned but witty eye to bear on our most intimate of everyday activities showing how they reveal the unconscious worlds of meaning in which we all live. She may lay your anxieties about tipping to rest but you will never feel safe in the bathroom, kitchen or dentist’s chair again though you will certainly laugh’ — Nigel Barley, author of The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut.
‘Kirsten Bell is an Australian social anthropologist living in the UK. She writes straight up, no messing about, and she’s incredibly funny. Think Erma Bombeck crossed with Jilly Cooper and a dash of Tom Sharpe… Silent but Deadly is an absolute delight’ — Ellen Whyte, Counsellor & Psychotherapist
‘[Bell’s] aim is to decipher the “cultural patterns that underlie our everyday quirks, foibles and habits,” and she does so with a light, witty and self-deprecating personal touch… The book is well-documented with sources from the academic literature, but also spiced up with footnotes telling tales from her own experiences’ — The British Columbia Review.
About the author
Kirsten Bell is an Australian anthropologist and Senior Research Fellow in Anthropology at Imperial College. She received her doctorate in social anthropology from James Cook University in 2000 and has held academic appointments at the University of Northern Colorado, Macquarie University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Roehampton, where she was Professor of Social Anthropology. To learn more about Kirsten and her work, visit her website at www.notkristenbell.com. You can also read condensed excerpts from the book on her Substack of the same name.