Winner of the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing 2017
Journeying around the globe, through past and present, Emma Tarlo unravels the intriguing story of human hair and what it tells us about ourselves and society.
When it’s not attached to your head, your very own hair takes on a disconcerting quality. Suddenly, it is strange. And yet hair finds its way into all manner of unexpected places, far from our heads, including cosmetics, clothes, ropes, personal and public collections, and even food. Whether treated as waste or as gift, relic, sacred offering or product in a billion-dollar industry for wigs and hair extensions, hair has many stories to tell.
Collected from Hindu temples and Buddhist nunneries and salvaged by the strand from waste heaps and the combs of long-haired women, hair flows into the industry from many sources. Entering this strange world, Emma Tarlo tracks hair’s movement across India, Myanmar, China, Africa, the United States, Britain and Europe, meeting people whose livelihoods depend on this singular commodity. Whether its journey ends in an Afro hair fair, a Jewish wig parlour, fashion salon or hair loss clinic, hair is oddly revealing of the lives it touches.
‘Tarlo is excellent at elucidating the vanity, money, pain and revulsion that unattached hair can represent. Think you know hair? You’ll never see it in the same way again.’
‘If you’re curious about your roots, you’ll enjoy exploring UK anthropology professor Emma Tarlo’s Entanglement a brilliant, comprehensive Baedeker to the billion dollar global hair trade.’
‘By turns surprising, unsettling and disturbing but never anything less than absorbing…weaving in history, politics and science in an interlocking, mesmerising narrative that seems wholly appropriate to the subject’.
– Literary Review
‘Brilliant...Entanglement tracks its subject doggedly through an almost infinite number of twists and turns.’
– Times Literary Supplement
‘Entanglement is dense with colourful characters and startling, unexpected information, which makes it both exhausting and delightful. Tarlo brings a lovely open-mindedness and a deadpan sense of humour to her writing.’
– New York Times Book Review
‘Tarlo uses an ethnographer’s eye to analyse the religious, social, cultural and commercial forces that drive the industry. Yet her book reads like a travelogue as we follow her through the temple towns of India, the hair factories of China, the sorting sheds of Myanmar and the salons of Europe and Britain… By employing an anecdotal yet vigorously researched approach, Tarlo succeeds in untangling a knotty topic while keeping the reader engaged through 400-plus pages. The result is a fascinating and authoritative work.’
– John Zubrzycki, The Australian
‘Interesting – and, at times strange’.
'Clever, idiosyncratic…lively…full of amusing, “fancy that” information and arresting observations…what a rich subject Tarlo has chosen for her book’.
– New Statesman
‘Wonderful…it’s not often a book gives you new eyes for your everyday world’.
– The Oldie
‘I had no idea that a non-fiction book about hair could be quite so fascinating’.
– The Pool
‘The questions she examines and the “secret lives of hair” that she exposes are fascinating… An engrossing investigation.’
– Library Journal, starred review
‘This is a book about the only crop we routinely harvest from our own bodies – hair. From that disconnection come amazing tales: histories of paupers and pedlars in Europe, vast global trades in wigs, poignant stories of chemotherapy and memorialisation...Tarlo has done an extraordinary job of reattaching hair to humanity.’
– Daniel Miller, professor of anthropology, University College London, and author of Stuff and The Comfort of Things
‘I will never think about hair the same way after reading Emma Tarlo’s brilliant, fascinating book!’
– Valerie Steele, author of The Corset: A Cultural History, and director and chief curator, The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
‘A timely book that takes a fascinating journey through the business practices and politics of hair, and the questionable relationship between hair dealers, middle-men and the consumer.’
– Professor Caroline Cox, author of How to be Adored
‘Written in conversational prose with historical images, little-known facts, and an absorbing narrative woven throughout, this is a lively read that explores the fashion, industry, and history of hair, while untangling our own often-complicated relationship with this natural accessory. In an informative and often whimsical voice, Tarlo personalizes her research with vignettes about her own fascination with hair. From eccentric wig makers in China to hair hunters in India and customers in Europe, Tarlo takes us on an eye-opening journey that will make us wonder if our own hair doesn’t have a secret life of its own.’
‘In Entanglement Tarlo opens up a whole secret world of human hair, its diverse social meanings across cultures and the robust trade of it that has carried on for centuries across the world. She weaves in historical details that address issues of religion, symbolism, fashion and economy, and presents ethnographic encounters with a range of characters from Dakkar to Wenzhou, Chennai to New York – millionaire wig dealers, impoverished villagers sorting comb waste, temple officials and fashionable women – who all perform an important role in this ubiquitous but unseen trade. This book is for everybody who is curious about how a single object can become a sought after commodity around the globe. Entanglement is beautifully written and while based on rigorous academic research it eschews jargon and makes the fascinating story of hair the centrepiece of the narrative. A most rewarding and edifying read.’
– Mukulika Banerjee, anthropologist, London School of Economics and Political Science