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How Pleasure Works [Hardcover]

Paul Bloom
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 25 2010

Yale psychologist Paul Bloom presents a striking and thought-provoking new understanding of pleasure, desire, and value. The thought of sex with a virgin is intensely arousing for many men. The average American spends more than four hours a day watching television. Abstract art can sell for millions of dollars. People slow their cars to look at gory accidents, and go to movies that make them cry.

Pleasure is anything but straightforward. Our desires, attractions, and tastes take us beyond the symmetry of a beautiful face, the sugar and fat in food, or the prettiness of a painting. In How Pleasure Works, Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom draws on groundbreaking research to unveil the deeper workings of why we desire what we desire. Refuting the longstanding explanation of pleasure as a simple sensory response, Bloom shows us that pleasure is grounded in our beliefs about the deeper nature or essence of a given thing. This is why we want the real Rolex and not the knockoff, the real Picasso and not the fake, the twin we have fallen in love with and not her identical sister.

In this fascinating and witty account, Bloom draws on child development, philosophy, neuroscience, and behavioral economics in order to address pleasures noble and seamy, highbrow and lowbrow. Along the way, he gives us unprecedented insights into a realm of human psychology that until now has only been partially understood.


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Review

[A] book that is different from the slew already out there on the general subject of happiness. No advice here about how to become happier by organizing your closest; Bloom is after something deeper than the mere stuff of feeling good. --The New York Times Book Review

In this eloquent and provocative book, Paul Bloom takes us inside the paradoxes of pleasure, exploring everything from cannibalism to Picasso to IKEA furniture. The quirks of delight, it turns out, are a delightful way to learn about the human mind. --Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide

Paul Bloom is among the deepest thinkers and clearest writers in the science of mind today. He has a knack for coming up with genuinely new insights about mental life--ones that you haven't already read about or thought of--and making them seem second nature through vivid examples and lucid explanations. --Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works

This book is not just a pleasure, but a revelation, by one of psychology's deepest thinkers and best writers. Lucid and fascinating, you'll want to read it slowly and savor the experience. --Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

How Pleasure Works has one of the best discussions I’ve read of why art is pleasurable, why it matters to us, and why it moves us so. --Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

Bloom is a superb writer. His gift is in writing beautifully but plainly, and anticipating everything a reader will need to know in order to appreciate the point he will ultimately make. --The Globe and Mail

From the Back Cover

"This book is not just a pleasure, but a revelation, by one of psychology's deepest thinkers and best writers. Lucid and fascinating, you'll want to read it slowly and savor the experience."--Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

"Following the path of pleasure, Bloom leads us through a menagerie of human strangeness. By the end of the trip, the 'magic inside us' begins to make sense. This book is a pearl, a work of great beauty and value, built up around a simple truth: that we are essentialists, tuned-in to unseen order."--Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

"Paul Bloom is among the deepest thinkers and clearest writers in the science of mind today. He has a knack for coming up with genuinely new insights about mental life--ones that you haven't already read about or thought of--and making them seem second nature through vivid examples and lucid explanations."--Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works

"How Pleasure Works has one of the best discussions I've read of why art is pleasurable, why it matters to us, and why it moves us so."--Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

"In this eloquent and provocative book, Paul Bloom takes us inside the paradoxes of pleasure, exploring everything from cannibalism to Picasso to IKEA furniture. The quirks of delight, it turns out, are a delightful way to learn about the human mind."
--Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide


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Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK - FASCINATING, INFORMATIVE, & FUN June 29 2010
Format:Hardcover
How Pleasure Works is a great book - it's entertaining and informative, and also surprising - as well as surprisingly funny. It examines different sources of pleasure - from food, to sex, to art, different forms of entertainment, and so on - and discusses recent findings in cognitive science (including a few of the author's own) that tell us about the surprisingly complex and sometimes deeply puzzling nature of human pleasure. The author argues that pleasure is not primarily a response to certain perceptual & sensory experiences, but instead has a significant cognitive component - what we think about something (whether or not we're correct) has a huge impact on how much pleasure we derive from it. The book contains many examples, which range from mildly surprising, to deeply puzzling, to just plain weird; some are very funny. The author has a fresh, engaging and easy style of writing, unlike what one finds in many science books for the lay public - this is enormously fun to read. Opening it up to any random page you'll almost certainly find yourself pulled in and getting caught up in the discussion - this book is hard to put down!
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
95 of 110 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing: More philosophy than scientific rigor Aug. 3 2010
By _LARS_ - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
With "new science" in the title, I was expecting more from this book. Although a few research studies are mentioned here and there this is more of a philosophical discussion resolving around an essentialist theory of pleasure than something based on scientific research. Whole sections consist of speculative discussions with no evidence to back them up. The author frequently cites works of fiction (e.g. Shakespeare) and passages from the bible to support his arguments. He also often resorts to hearsay with statements such as "some say that..." for support. The book also contains outdated information, for example that female estrus is hidden from males to promote pair bonding, which has since been dis-proven in laboratory tests that indicate that males can detect estrus. (Generally his presentation of conventional model of human sexuality and inequality is outdated. See Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality for more updated information.) The author also has an outdated human-centric view, suggesting that only humans have meta-representation and theory of mind, despite quite a bit of recent evidence to the contrary.
45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK - FASCINATING, INFORMATIVE, & FUN June 2 2010
By Avid Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
How Pleasure Works is a great book - it's entertaining and informative, and also surprising - as well as surprisingly funny. It examines different sources of pleasure - from food, to sex, to art, different forms of entertainment, and so on - and discusses recent findings in cognitive science (including a few of the author's own) that tell us about the surprisingly complex and sometimes deeply puzzling nature of human pleasure. The author argues that pleasure is not primarily a response to certain perceptual & sensory experiences, but instead has a significant cognitive component - what we think about something (whether or not we're correct) has a huge impact on how much pleasure we derive from it. The book contains many examples, which range from mildly surprising, to deeply puzzling, to just plain weird; some are very funny. The author has a fresh, engaging and easy style of writing, unlike what one finds in many science books for the lay public - this is enormously fun to read. Opening it up to any random page you'll almost certainly find yourself pulled in and getting caught up in the discussion - this book is hard to put down!
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where's the science? Aug. 23 2010
By W. J. McMahon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Interesting and well written from a philosophical point of view, but the title is very misleading. This book is more about something the author calls essentialism than pleasure. He does contend that pleasure is derived from this essentialism, but provides no scientific evidence to support that point. In fact the only science is this book amounts to a few scattered citings of psychological studies that happen buttress his philosophical arguments.
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Thought-Provoking June 13 2010
By Read-Only - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Are you into cannibalism, incest, and wearing Hitler's sweater? If so, this book is for you! Actually, if not, then this book is even more for you. Bloom asks why it is that things have the power to please or upset us beyond their objective properties. Hitler's sweater is the same as any other sweater--it isn't evil; it never did anything wrong. So, why would it be so creepy to pull it on? Would you rather be kissed by your favorite movie star or his or her identical twin? Most people of course want the movie star... but why? Somehow, the way we think about the person and the kiss is just as important as the way the person looks and the physical act. Bloom explores such examples through domains such as sex, art, family, and food.

"How Pleasure Works" is a great read. The author skillfully draws you in to each topic with examples like Hitler's sweater and then describes relevant research that sheds light on why we like what we like. Unlike many such books, he does not get bogged down in details of experiments. Neither does the author talk down to the reader: He is congenial but not overly jokey. The pages seem to turn themselves.

At the end, the reader comes away with a greater appreciation for how complex our likes and dislikes are. However, many of the best examples (like incest and cannibalism) focus on what we DON'T like. The book's success can perhaps best be summed up by the fact that even when you are being disgusted by such examples, you still get pleasure from reading about them.
27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars neither fish nor fowl July 26 2010
By John N. Ruf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
'How Pleasure Works' exists somewhere between philosophy and science and doesn't do much for either. Philosophically we can learn more about 'essentialism' from Plato, and scientifically we can learn more about pleasure from many cognitive neuroscientists. I think that this kind of academic blather comes from too sequestered a life, from consorting only with other versions of oneself, from gazing too myopically at one's experimental subjects, and from publish or perish pressures. Very disappointing and a waste of time. This kind of "Oh, wow" New-Ageism is to the subject of pleasure what high fructose corn syrup is to food.

Here is a short list of words missing from the index: reinforcement, addiction, reward, dopamine, drugs.
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