August 13, 2001 12:00 PM

By Brian Bates with John Cleese

Published to accompany a documentary airing on the Learning Channel this month, this coffee-table tome fails to dazzle on its own. Bates, a psychologist and biologist, moves from an exploration of the human face’s evolution—basically, having eyes to see prey, a nose to smell it and teeth to chew it made us more efficient eaters—into meditations on beauty, expressions, the purposes of vanity, and fame. There are interesting tidbits here. Who knew, for instance, that humans (and not just Jim Carrey) are capable of making about 7,000 facial expressions? Or that movie close-ups were introduced to make viewers feel intimately involved with stars, so they’d keep coming back for more?

Too often, though, the text cries out for the film. It’s not much good, after all, to read about two “famous” identical pictures of Bette Davis, one retouched and one not, where “the contrast is striking”—without being shown the photos. As for John Cleese’s contributions, they’re not easy to detect. The book’s jacket does reveal that the former Monty Python member “makes a point of marrying Americans and is at least 60 years old.” More where that came from, please. (DK, $29.95)

Bottom Line: Needs a makeover

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