We're not saying it's going to be your primary reason for purchasing a copy of Playboy: the Complete Centerfolds 1953–2016, which features every lovely young thing to have occupied that precious double-page spread (triple-page after March 1956) since Marilyn Monroe kicked things off as Miss December 1953, but it turns out you can learn rather a lot about America's recent history from looking at lots and lots of pictures of American breasts in quick succession (or slow, as may be your wont).
And if you can't, there are introductory essays for each decade from writers including Paul Theroux and Jay McInerney to assist.
Observing the coquettish glances of the Fifties to the unapologetic eye-contact of the Sixties through to the borderline furious glares of the Seventies, you could make all kinds of inferences about the growing acknowledgement of female sexuality and empowerment, while the preoccupations of each age are often reflected in the choice of settings — is that a fax machine on the desk behind business-minded Miss June 1981? And where on earth did Miss November 1983 track down that non-regulation gymwear?
But perhaps the more comforting aspects of the book are the lines of continuity. The animal skin rugs, the white lace, the bicycles, the penchant for pseudo-Native American pelmets persist through the ages because the world of Playboy is in some ways resistant to outside influence. As Elizabeth Wurtzel points out in her introduction to the 2010s, while the rest of us are clamped to our screens, Playmates are still outdoors hugging palm trees, donning snow shoes and riding horses bareback across beaches.
But naturally we don't expect you to spend £55 on Playboy: the Complete Centerfolds 1953–2016 in order to scour it for sociological clues. You will, of course, like the rest of us, be buying it for the articles. And who can't acknowledge the loveliness of Maureen Gibbons' description of landing-strip pubic hair, which started appearing in the 2000s, as "delicate as handmade lace, or dragonfly wings"? (Certainly an improvement on our effort: "a bit like John Waters' moustache".)