Ford Evening Book Talk: Beauty and the Brain - May 18, 2023 — 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Matthew Gilmore Discussion
Ford Evening Book Talk: Beauty and the Brain


George Washington, Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1785. Transferred to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association through the generosity of John Augustine Washington III, 1860 [W-369]

Hear from Rachel E. Walker, author of Beauty and the Brain: The Science of Human Nature in Early America. 

This fascinating new book examines the history of phrenology and physiognomy, proposing a bold new way of understanding the connection between science, politics, and popular culture in early America. Walker provides an important history of how people tried to read facial features as a mark of character for both conservative and radical purposes.

Attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions and have their books signed.



Add to Calendar


May 18, 2023 — 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.




George Washington Presidential Library

About the Book

Between the 1770s and the 1860s, people all across the globe relied on physiognomy and phrenology to evaluate human worth. These once-popular but now discredited disciplines were based on a deceptively simple premise: that facial features or skull shape could reveal a person’s intelligence, character, and personality. In the United States, these were culturally ubiquitous sciences that both elite thinkers and ordinary people used to understand human nature.

  In taking physiognomy and phrenology seriously, Beauty and the Brain recovers a vibrant—if largely forgotten—cultural and intellectual universe, showing how popular sciences shaped some of the greatest political debates of the American past.

About the Author

Rachel E. Walker is an assistant professor at the University of Hartford. She earned her Ph.D. in history from the University of Maryland. Her scholarship has been supported by numerous archives and institutions, including the Smithsonian Museum’s National Portrait Gallery, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and the American Antiquarian Society.  She worked on Beauty and the Brain while a member of the Washington Library’s 2020-21 class of research fellows.