The Barefoot Book, by Daniel Howell, is now available in bookstores everywhere. This is a great book that every barefooter ought to have.
In fact, every barefooter really ought to have about 5-10 copies, so that you can hand it out to friends and relatives who are wondering just what is it about you that makes you want to go barefoot all the time.
Dr. Howell (he is a professor of biology) starts out on the (bare) right foot: he notes that almost all the feet in the Western world may be “normal” (in that most people you see have them a certain way), but they are certainly not “natural.” The shoes that so many people wear so much of the time have modified their feet into something else. And that has consequences.
The book also contains chapters dealing with all sorts of barefoot issues . . .
Chapter 3 is a marvelous description of the way the foot is put together. I’ve studied this a bit, and even I learned new stuff. This chapter addresses not only the bones and arches of the foot, but also how the skin changes to accommodate barefoot walking, and how the sensory feedback of the bare sole is important.
Dr. Howell then goes on to discuss just what shoes do to feet, running the gamut from overheating them, to how they distort the shape and natural function of them, and just how bad hard soles and high heels are. There is also a chapter on what to do if you are just starting out going barefoot more often, and addresses walking, hiking, and the latest popularity of barefoot running. One of the things I particularly liked in the barefoot hiking section is that he notes that the flat surface of a shoe is ungiving when stepping on any sort of rock. This may provide some protection to the heel itself, but it transfers the weight up to the ankle because the ankle just has to rotate to accommodate it. When barefoot, the rounded heel can better accept that, and there is also the immediate feedback that lets one reduce the weight on that foot.
Around this part of the book is presented “the tap test” (p. 103):
The “tap test” is an interesting way to demonstrate how the skin on the sole changes with use. Once you’ve logged some barefoot miles, simply take a pencil and tap it against the skin on the sole of your foot in various places. The skin on the arch or the top of your foot will absorb the sound of the tap but the tough skin on the heel will tap loudly—almost like you’re tapping on plastic.
I would have liked to have him mention that the reason for this difference is that the skin, when under pressure, produces keratin, the same substance that makes up hair and nails. That is why the tapping gets loud on your heel and ball. It is actually the same mechanism that causes calluses; it’s just that it is not localized (like a corn) and subject to being easily caught or being painful. Instead, it is spread out over the whole bottom of the foot—an evolutionarily useful adaptation.
Minimalist shoes are also discussed. Sometimes you need them, either at work or to get past the shoe police. And finally, there’s a plea just to try going barefoot more often (and the Society for Barefoot Living is mentioned as a good resource).
Long-time members of the SBL really won’t find a whole lot new in this book. They’ll spend much of their time nodding their heads in agreement (and wanting to head out for a barefoot hike), since much of the material has been discussed on the SBL mailing list. The value-added for SBL members is the organization and the completeness (and, actually, the general easy readability) of the book. The real hope is that non-barefooters, or house-barefooters, will come across this book, give it a try, and find out exactly what they are missing. And Dr. Howell’s book does that very, very well.
One more item. The sub-title for the book is 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes. Scattered along the text of the book are these 50 cute little reasons, often located close to the discussion in the main text related to each one. I’ll end this entry with number 3:
Go barefoot because natural is better than “normal.”