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A history of celibacy Hardcover – Feb 11 1999


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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 559 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Canada / Not Applicable; 1st ed edition (Feb. 11 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002557355
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002557351
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15 x 3.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,805,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Elizabeth Abbott is Dean of Women at Trinity College, University of Toronto, where she also teaches a social science course.An historian with a doctorate in 19th-century history, she has worked for over a decade as a journalist and writer with a special interest in social history and the environment.She was editor-in-chief of Chronicle of Canada, the bestselling illustrated history of Canada and the author of Haiti: The Duvaliers and their Legacy.She is a book reviewer for The Globe and Mail and The Gazette (Montreal).She has written for Harrowsmith, The Next City and Equinox and in 1992 won a National Magazine Award for environmental writing.A History of Celibacy is her most recent book. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Format: Paperback
A fabulously well-written book that offers one a great deal of food for thought. Yes, at times agonizingly explicit, but real and humanly written. More than expose or a simple history, but a personal journey, which the author herself took and took something from. Its breadth is commanding and admirable, its style is at once extremely academic and in the same instant entirely readable and smooth flowing.
In this day and age of non-interest in sex yielding implications of psychological imbalance or worse, it is nice to have something to refer to, something that clarifies the history and purpose of celibacy in all its negative and positive implications. An excellently researched and presented treastise.
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Format: Paperback
I read the hardcover edition of the book, before all the wonderful press it received, but I am enamoured by this paperback cover. It brings the title alive with its lush colors and wonderful cover art. Abbott writes well and brings together a variety of aspects that have long been a part of celibacy. From the various saints who shunned sexual intimacy to the modern-day virgins who've never "had" sex (but have had intimate relations) - Abbott provides a insider's view on this lifestyle.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A wonderfully "tart romp through history"... Dec 30 2001
By Kiera - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A fabulously well-written book that offers one a great deal of food for thought. Yes, at times agonizingly explicit, but real and humanly written. More than expose or a simple history, but a personal journey, which the author herself took and took something from. Its breadth is commanding and admirable, its style is at once extremely academic and in the same instant entirely readable and smooth flowing.
In this day and age of non-interest in sex yielding implications of psychological imbalance or worse, it is nice to have something to refer to, something that clarifies the history and purpose of celibacy in all its negative and positive implications. An excellently researched and presented treastise.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A solid recommendation despite some flaws Sept. 6 2008
By V. Brock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author states in the introduction that she began her research with a strong opinion about celibacy: that it was unnatural. The six years she spent writing the book changed her mind on that (her current view is much more complicated). This initial judgment of celibacy obviously colors the narrative in some parts of the book, especially the early chapters.

I found a handful of instances where historical information contradicted other histories I have read. I tend to trust the other sources more: Abbott was researching the practice of and attitudes toward celibacy, and likely did not spend as much time evaluating her information on other issues.

But overall, this was a wonderfully complete narrative of celibacy's history all over the world, in cultures ancient and modern. The narrative draws one in, the analysis draws together disparate cultural ideas into compelling conclusions, and the book is packed full of fascinating information.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A great book Feb. 27 2006
By Snezana Vrangalova - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It's a highly informative and non-judgemental history of not only celibacy, but also sexuality in general throughout many different times and cultures. I loved the way Abbott managed to relate each form of celibacy to the social, religious, moral and economical circumstances in which it appeared - it gives the reader a broader understanding of societies and individuals who embraced or rejected celibacy.

In addition to this, History of Celibacy is beautifully written, maybe more difficult but extremely pleasurable to read. (It's also good for learning new words, especially if you're a non-native english speaker. I wish I'd read this book before I took my GRE, it would've added at least 50 points to my verbal score)
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Is There Power in Celibacy? May 15 2009
By Douglas Black - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In reading Elizabeth Abbott's A History of Celibacy, one gets the inescapable impression that the author is a believer in the power of sexual abstinence. Whether practiced by Christian ascetics who believe holiness can only be attained by disdaining the appetites of the flesh, by shamans seeking spiritual power or enlightenment, or by women trying to achieve independent existence in a world run by men, celibacy is portrayed in this book as a laudable, even noble way to achieve one's goals. While Ms. Abbott is certainly entitled to her opinion on this or any topic, it's a bit jarring to find such editorializing in what purports to be a history book.

Christianity is the subject of nearly a third of A History of Celibacy. Abbott acknowledges that this is unsurprising, given that it is "sex-negative [and] celibacy-obsessed...". Consequently, I found much about Christianity's obsession with sex that was new to me. For instance, she suggests that St. Augustine's well-known loathing for sex may have been rooted in his early experience with Manichaeanism, a dualistic religion which taught that the body was a prison that could only be escaped by celibacy and other forms of self-denial.

We move now from religion-inspired celibacy to the belief that semen conservation is essential to health. This goes back at least as far as Greek doctors Hippocrates and Galen, both of whom believed that too much sexual activity was debilitating to men. In the 18th century Swiss doctor Samuel Tissot expanded on this, claiming that "one ounce of [semen] would weaken more than [the loss of] forty ounces of blood". Some 19th-century organizations sought to influence young men to be celibate until marriage, and after that use their semen only to father children, sublimating the rest into more noble pursuits. A modern-day holdover of this school of thought is the belief, widespread among athletes, that sexual activity will harm their physical performance. Abbott notes that this is quite prevalent in soccer, and goes on to relate that "to this day, soccer fans in Peru blame their country's 1982 World Cup loss... on those Peruvian players who broke the ban on sex the night before the game".

Abbott covers coerced celibacy in considerable detail, whether the cause is incarceration, skewed gender ratios (due either to casualties of war or a cultural preference for boy children), cultural norms that forbid widows to remarry, even castration. Abbott discusses the first three causes briefly but covers castration in detail, from Byzantine harem guards to bureaucrats of the Ottoman Empire to castrati opera singers. Indian hijra are also included in this chapter, which seems odd because I could find nothing to suggest that they are castrated against their will. Indeed, Abbott notes that "researchers have determined that most hijras are voluntarily castrated".

I think the book would have been improved by a somewhat more restrictive definition of celibacy. Celibacy as a voluntary behavior is an interesting psychological phenomenon that would have benefited from deeper analysis. The author's inclusion of the various forms of coerced celibacy, not to mention premarital virginity, took up space that could have been used for such an analysis. The question I had in mind before beginning this book was "why do so many cultures consider voluntary celibacy to be holy or spiritual?" That question remains unanswered.

Overall, I enjoyed A History of Celibacy and found it very informative. I must take issue, however, with the author's apparent failure to remain objective on the subject. It doesn't help that she acknowledges in the introduction that she has adopted celibacy herself during her work on this book, and considers herself the richer for it. Most notably when talking about women, she repeatedly portrays celibacy as an effective way to achieve equality and independence. While this may be so, it strikes me as a little bit like cutting off your toes to make your shoes fit. Human beings are sexual creatures. To my way of thinking, it is better to fight for an equality that allows full expression of sexuality than to deny one's sexual nature, thereby removing sex as an issue altogether. I do acknowledge that such a fight was not always possible for women, but that is certainly not the case today.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Interesting when read with a critical eye Aug. 7 2009
By Stratiotes Doxha Theon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Although an interesting skip through ancient to modern history, the author's historical analysis comes across a bit 2-dimensional and lacks the depth of a more serious historical study. For example, the early church teaching on sexuality is little more than the widely held assumption that the early church teachers were essentially dualist in their theology with a low view of sex. There are, of course, examples from their writings that seem at first to support such notions but a more careful study will reveal there is far more depth than is supposed in popular opinion. For an understanding of early church teaching on sexuality, the reader would do well to consult more scholarly works such as David Ford's Women and Men in the Early Church: The Full Views of St. John Chrysostom or Scott Hahn's Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians.

In addition, the author seems so focused on the empowerment celibacy can provide to women in a male-dominated culture that she seems to miss other important factors that might widen our understanding of the topic. Empowerment through celibacy is an interesting and important topic in itself worth further study. Unfortunately, with the approach taken by the author, it remains only hinted at without the solid historical evidence that might be brought to bear on the topic.

Overall, an interesting quick study in an oft misunderstood and maligned ideal. Perhaps the most commendable thought in the work is the author's admission early on that at first she assumed celibacy to be unnatural but she eventually saw the beauty and peace it could bring to her own life. Refreshing sentiment counter to our culture so obsessed by sex. Well worth the time for the critical and discerning reader to explore.

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