When A Return to Modesty was first published in 1999, it began an important and much-needed national conversation. Wendy Shalit persuasively argued that modesty is not some hang-up we should set out to cure, but rather a wonderful instinct that, if rediscovered and given the right social support, has the power to transform society.

Unfortunately, many problems Shalit originally explored, such as date rape, harassment, and most alarmingly, the sexualisation of young girls, have only become more prevalent. Where once a young woman was ashamed of her sexual experience, today she is ashamed of her sexual inexperience. And as we continue to push the limits of what is accepted behaviour, the pressure to overcome embarrassment and discard all sense of modesty is greater than ever.

A RETURN TO MODESTY is a deeply personal account as well as a fascinating intellectual exploration into everything from seventeenth-century manners to the 1948 tune “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Beholden neither to social conservatives nor to feminists, Shalit reminds us that modesty is not prudery, but a natural instinct-and one that may be able to save us from ourselves.


Wendy Shalit began to write A RETURN TO MODESTY as an undergrad at Williams College, where she received her BA in Philosophy in 1997. Her essays on literary and cultural topics have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, cnn.com, and other publications. She has also debated her views on NPR, and with her three lively and opinionated children.