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The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us [Hardcover]

Sheril Kirshenbaum
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Jan. 5 2011 0446559903 978-0446559904 1
From a noted science journalist comes a wonderfully witty and fascinating exploration of how and why we kiss.

When did humans begin to kiss? Why is kissing integral to some cultures and alien to others? Do good kissers make the best lovers? And is that expensive lip-plumping gloss worth it? Sheril Kirshenbaum, a biologist and science journalist, tackles these questions and more in THE SCIENCE OF KISSING. It's everything you always wanted to know about kissing but either haven't asked, couldn't find out, or didn't realize you should understand. The book is informed by the latest studies and theories, but Kirshenbaum's engaging voice gives the information a light touch. Topics range from the kind of kissing men like to do (as distinct from women) to what animals can teach us about the kiss to whether or not the true art of kissing was lost sometime in the Dark Ages. Drawing upon classical history, evolutionary biology, psychology, popular culture, and more, Kirshenbaum's winning book will appeal to romantics and armchair scientists alike.

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"What's the big deal? You pucker up, and there you are-right? Turns out there's a lot more to kissing than you might think. For instance, you never forget your first kiss isn't just a sappy sentiment; it's apparently quite literally true, and the fact that we remember more details about that first kiss than about our first sexual experience speaks volumes about the nature of memory. Men and women kiss differently; that's also true, but you might be surprised to learn why. Why is kissing important to some human societies, and unimportant-just plain foreign-to others? University of Texas research scientist and Discover magazine blogger Kirshenbaum draws on psychology, biology, history, and other disciplines in this highly engaging, highly informative book."—David Pitt, Booklist

"Shows flashes of greatness."—Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times

"[Kirshenbaum's] honesty, wit and creativity make reading this book a journey to treasure. Your desire to kiss will, happily, remain strong."—Catherine Ramsdell, Chattanooga Free Press

"A beautifully crafted book, answering many of the questions you have about kissing, and many you haven't thought of, but are none the less fascinating."—Vanessa Woods,

"Like some memorable kisses, the book is short and sweet but teaches us something new."—Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times

"Sheril Kirshenbaum wittily explores theories about the evolutionary beginnings of kissing. . . Science buffs and the everyday reader can enjoy Kirshenbaum's insightful commentary."—Laila Barakat, Sacramento News and Review

"Wonderful."—Adam Frank,

"Playful yet comprehensive."—Michele Lent Hirsch, Psychology Today

"Borders on the super genius . . . an entertaining and informative read about a practice that we should all spend more time investigating."—Bret McCabe, Baltimore City Paper

"They say you never forget your first kiss-it sears itself into your memory. The Science of Kissing will no doubt do something similar. From the neurology of smooching to practical tips on locking lips, Sheril Kirshenbaum makes reading about this strange and fascinating practice almost as much fun as doing it."—Sam Kean, New York Times-bestselling author of The Disappearing Spoon

"Sheril Kirshenbaum gives you everything you wanted to know about this wonderful way we use our mouths. If you've ever wondered why we kiss under the mistletoe, or why two out of three people tilt their heads to the right when they zoom in for a kiss, Kirshenbaum will tell you, in a way that is witty, wise, and pucker-perfect."—Robin Marantz Henig, contributing writer, The New York Times Magazine

"If you fear that knowing the science of kissing will unweave the poetry of it, fear not. This engaging book, chock-a-block with eye-popping science and fun stories not only makes for great reading but plumps up the pleasure of a smooch itself. You'll never think of kissing-what e.e. cummings called 'a better fate than wisdom'-in the same way again."—Jennifer Ackerman, author of Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold and Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body

"This was the best science book I've read in a long time, offering a new level of understanding to an innate part of ourselves, and making it seem even more enchanting."—-Cosmos magazine

About the Author

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist at The Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin . She blogs on Discover magazine's website, The Intersection, and contributes to a variety of blogs and science publications. Visit her website at

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, short book on the science of kissing June 6 2011
This book is written for a general audience, and is about the science of kissing. The book breaks down into a few different sections, examining the evolutionary history of kissing in humans and animals, cultural and historical influences on kissing, the functions of kissing, the effects of kissing on the brain, sex differences in kissing, and future directions in kissing, to name a few. The author is a blogger for Discover magazine, so she is used to writing about science to a main audience. The tone of the book is therefore funny and serious at the same time. She does a good job describing the science without making it too heavy. The fact that she tops it off with a top-ten list about how to kiss better (according to science) is a great example of that. Overall, this wasn't the greatest science book I've written, nor the most enjoyable book, but it was definitely a fun blend of the too. While I personally would have liked more research and depth, what is there and how it's written make this an easy four stars.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, Funny, Interesting Jan. 4 2011
By Texas_reader - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I pre-ordered this book and was very excited when the release date was moved up. I had expected to enjoy it (I've read other works - long and short- by Kirshenbaum and liked them), but did not expect her newest release to be so engaging (I dont personally study this type of stuff, so wasn't sure if it would keep my attention). I'm happy to say that it was GREAT! Overall - I definitely give it 5 stars. The book kept my attention and interest from cover to cover. I learned a lot - and enjoyed the process.

When I sat down to read it after Christmas, I had thought to thumb through 20 or 30 pages, but found myself anxiously turning beyond 50.... 100.... 200... until I was done. Couldn't wait to see what the next page would hold. As I read, I laughed (quoting "The Princess Bride" at the onset is a good way to do that), learned (did you know that humans generally remember their first trip to 1st base better than their first trip to home?), and cringed (eating apples from armpits - trust me. Ick!). The book even touched on "Twilight"-inspired "kissing" behaviors from a scientist's point of view (interesting).

The book was a fun cruise through the history and present status of kissing in different cultures, groups and species - in the context of scientific studies on what kissing does to us, and why me continue to do it.

Great for those of us who like to learn about new topics, from a scientist/historian's point-of-view - but also want a work that is engaging, and not dry. Definite 5 stars!
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not that much here Feb. 19 2011
By J. Davis - Published on
It gives no pleasure to give this book a bad review; the last book she (co)wrote was very good and I enjoy reading her blog. Nonetheless, I can't recommend buying this book. It was very thin in substance and length. The science of kissing, as the author (I believe it's p.197) herself admits, is still in its infancy. Maybe in 5 years or so there will be more to write about the subject of kissing.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BookHounds [...] Jan. 11 2011
By Mary Bookhounds - Published on
Everything you ever wanted to know about kissing but were afraid to ask. It has sections on the history, psychology, physiology and meanings behind that act. This is a fascinating books filled with facts that are formed into a comprehensive and enjoyable book. My favorite section is on the physiology which also covers germs and how your body has learned to react to a kiss. Fans of Mary Roach are truly going to enjoy this one.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Marvelous Work on a Happy Topic Jan. 6 2011
By Claudia Dreifus - Published on
Sheril Kirshenbaum, who, with Chris Mooney, brings science to the masses with "The Intersection," blog, has decided to tell us everything about a lovely subject, kissing.

She's a bright and sparkling writer and the book is almost as much fun as the subject. Forget about the chocolates. This is the gift to give to your beloved this Valentine's Day.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Come on, give me a kiss! July 25 2012
By Paul A. Mastin - Published on
On a whim, I picked up The Science of Kissing from the new releases shelf at the library. I thought it would be a fun read, and I wasn't disappointed. Kirshenbaum, a marine biologist and science journalist (and a research scientist at UT-Austin, but I'll try not to hold that against her), decided to delve into the nature and origins of one of my favorite things to do, kissing. Turns out there's not a ton of primary research in that particular field, but she tracked it down, and did some original research of her own.

Why do we kiss? Well, there are a number of possibilities. The origin of kissing could be tied to the practice of mothers pre-chewing their babies' food and depositing it in the babies' mouths (this pertains to humans as well as animals). She reveals her background as an evolutionary biologist when she observes that babies' mouths have evolved to be a perfect receptacle for a nipple. That the system of feeding our young with mother's milk originated by design is completely outside of her worldview. Kissing could be linked to the practice of smelling one another on greeting (again, humans and non-humans). There are definitely chemical triggers and responses when we kiss, determining compatibility and guiding relationships. "Kiss and make up" works for a reason: we trigger chemical reactions in one another.

Many animals kiss or engage in kissing-like behaviors.
Lots of what she writes is speculative. Controlled experiments to observe chemical responses and neurological activity related to kissing inevitably interfere with the act of kissing. The closest she came was exposing subjects to images of kissing and measuring neurological activity. But that didn't seem to lead to many firm conclusions.

Kirshenbaum's goal with The Science of Kissing seems to have been more about entertainment than serious science. That's not meant as a criticism: she is skilled at engaging her reader while distilling good research, in ways that a layman can understand and enjoy. This is a fun read, sure to make you want to put into practice what she writes of. She does conclude with 10 (definitely scientifically based!) tips for kissing. I like the final one best, and I will be sure to mention it to my kissing partner:

Kiss regularly and often. Once you've found someone special, a kiss works to maintain the strong partnership you share by helping to keep passion alive--with plenty of assistance from those hormones and neurotransmitters. Lots of kissing is a telltale sign of a healthy relationship, because the connection fosters a sense of security through companionship--which in turn has been physiologically linked to happiness.
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