What is considered to be beautiful varies from culture to culture, from generation to generation, and often from one period of our lives to another. A good way to expand your appreciation of beauty is to study aesthetics from a cross-cultural perspective, the specialty of Yi-Fu Tuan, professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Passing Strange and Wonderful is a fascinating exploration of the significance of beauty for individuals and cultures.

"The more attuned we are to the beauties of the world, the more we come to life and take joy in it," writes Yi-Fu Tuan. He begins with a discussion of the "building blocks" of aesthetic experiences, the five senses. Beauty is discovered in the warmth of a coffee cup, eating, listening to music, walking through an aromatic garden, observing the stars, and many other examples.

The author then examines how beauty is perceived by Australian aborigines, the Chinese, Medieval Europeans, and modern Americans. This wide-ranging survey encourages us to look at even the most common sights-a commercial strip by the highway, for example-for what they reveal about our aesthetics. He concludes with a consideration of the link between the beautiful and the good, expressed as moral beauty.