Books About Body Piercing & Body Art

On this page, you will find summaries of books about body piercing, and body art in general.  There are  many, many books about tattoos out there, but my choices choices are heavily weighted toward piercing references.

Cloud’s rating system:

*****  The Piercing Bible (the only 5 star book for piercees!)

****    Superior and interesting books about piercing and body art

***      Pretty good and informative

**         Not without merit, but narrow topic or just strange

*           Total waste of time and money


Modern Prim 15484217

Re/Search: Modern Primitives, Andrea Juno and V. Vale, 1989.

Modern Primitives is a foundational book  for modern body art lovers. It is the seminal publication that really brought body modification out into the public consciousness.  It’s done in an interview/essay format, with black and white photos and drawings. There are interviews with some of the early body art pioneers, an uncredited photo of Elayne Angel’s lovely derriere, an essay on piercing as ritual in MesoAmerica . . . it’s a piece of history, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. And still available on Amazon for under $15. A bargain!

Rating:  ****

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A Brief History of the Evolution of Body Adornment in Western Culture: Ancient Origins and Today, by Blake Perlingieri, 2003

This book was written by a piercer for piercers.  I was fortunate enough to buy this direct from Blake at the APP conference when it first came out.  It is both an anthropological treatment of piercing and a recounting of one man’s personal love affair with body art.  It’s one of the best books for understanding the history of body piercing, both modern and ethnic.  It includes a unique look at some of the early body modification pioneers, including Fakir Musafar, and really gives a sense of how these people lived and fought the system, and modified their bodies in secret.  It also includes some gorgeous photography, particularly of ancient and ethnic museum body jewelry.

Rating:  ****

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High Voltage Tattoo by Kat Von D, 2009 A well-conceived, personal, and informative tattoo book by the popular Kat Von D.  Read my review (with lots of pics!) here.

Rating: ***

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In The Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification, Victoria Pitts, 2003

It’s written by a feminist scholar, and discusses post-modern feminist thought arising from the theories of Michel Foucault . . . etc. Just the thing if you are writing a paper for sociology or something. Although densely written in an academic style, this book does touch on some very interesting and pertinent themes in body modification, such as gender issues and cyber/medical body modification.

Rating:  ***

return 16746113

Return of the Tribal, Rufus C. Camphaussen, 1997

This book covers a range of body art, from painting, to scarification, to piercing, both traditional and modern. Although the text does not go into great detail, what there is, is thoughtful, and there are some really great photos here.

Rating: ***

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Pagan Fleshworks, by Maureen Mercury and Steve Haworth, 2001

Although this book has great photos by Steve Haworth, I think this book’s strength is the text. Mercury approaches body art from a philosophical viewpoint, and draws connections with paganism, alchemy, and healing. She provides one of the clearest discussions of Cartesian influence on our bodies that I’ve read. Very interesting to anyone who wishes to delve into the deeper meanings of piercings and other bodymods.

Rating: ***

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Decorated Skin: A World Survey  of Body Art, Karl Groning, 2002

This is a big book, photo-centric, with lots of interesting pictures not found elsewhere. I especially like the body painting section. Lots of African photos, so if you have “Africa Adorned” you probably won’t need this. (Unless you’re totally obsessed–like me!)

Rating:  ***

dunbar 9780312202682

Body Piercing by Andrew Dunbar and Dean Lahn, 1997

This book has art photos of body piercings only, using the most innovative and creatively designed jewelry pieces I have ever seen. Most would not be wearable on a regular basis; they are art pieces, but oh boy, how great these pics are! This book also has the distinction of having an actual steel ring piercing the cover. Very clever!

Rating:  ***


Sacred Marks: The Sacred Origins of Tattoos and Body Markings, Chris Rainier, 2004

This book is just amazing. The photographer here was an assistant to Ansel Adams, and has a produced an amazing coffee table book, complete with fold out pages, fancy overleafs, and dvd. I don’t know about the “sacred origins” part, but what he does do is to juxtapose photos of people with body modifications (not just piercings, but scarifications, tattoos, and the whole range) against their natural settings. Thus, he shows urban tattooed people in urban settings; tribal people in tribal settings, etc. Sounds simple, but is really done in a thoughtful and evocative way. This book is highly recommended! You can get a glimpse of his concepts at the Ancient Marks website here:

Rating: ****

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