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Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human Paperback – Jul 3 2012
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“This book could fuel a score of dinner-party conversations…this is more than some scientific stocking-filler: it uses science to unsettle our most embedded assumptions. It is deeply thought-provoking.” ―Sunday Times (UK)
“Excellent in its entirety, woven of Bering's rare tapestry of scientific rigor and a powerful, articulate social point of view.” ―Brain Pickings
“You must buy [Bering's book] to be both entertained and the life and soul of cocktail parties from now ‘til the end of the world.” ―Jezebel
“Bering's jokes about the things that make us most squeamish invite us to share his joyful curiosity about human sexuality, to see the world through his eyes...As Bering describes it, the complex interplay between biology, psychology, and culture suggests that what makes us most human--empathy--is also what makes us the most complicated beast of all.” ―Bookforum
“While remaining strictly true to the scientific facts of any given issue, Bering keeps readers on their toes with his signature salacious quips and stray, juicy peeks at his personal life.” ―Carl Hays, Booklist
“Anyone familiar with [Bering's] columns knows the goofy, self-deprecatory way he has of digesting lofty concepts. This book . . . is a prime specimen.” ―Newcity Lit
“These entertaining essays offer a cornucopia of ideas that will reward readers with hours of conversational gambits.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Anyone interested in reading about the latest developments in sex research told with a generous dose of self-deprecating humor will enjoy this essay collection.” ―Library Journal
“An accessible, lively, thought-provoking book for anyone curious about what it means to be human.” ―Kirkus
“Bering has a well-researched, erudite response that teaches more about whatever sex-related topic is at hand than quite a few books I've come across. I have yet to come away from reading one of his essays or responses to reader questions and not feel considerably better informed than I was just minutes before. Be sure to also check out his latest book…” ―David DiSalvo, "Six Writers Who Know More About Sex Than You Do (So Read Them)" on Forbes.com
“Jesse Bering is the Hunter S. Thompson of science writing, and he is a delight to read--funny, smart, and madly provocative.” ―Paul Bloom, Professor, Yale University, and author of How Pleasure Works
“Jesse Bering is the intellectual spawn of Helen Fisher and Oliver Sacks, and Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? is brainy, informative, compassionate--and hilariously naughty.” ―Amy Dickinson, New York Times bestselling author and NPR personality
“If David Sedaris were an experimental psychologist, he'd be writing essays very much like these. Bering's unique blend of scientific knowledge, sense of humor, intellectual courage, and pure literary skill is immediately recognizable; no one writes quite the way Bering does. Read this book. You'll learn, laugh, and then learn some more.” ―Christopher Ryan, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Sex at Dawn
“Nothing sacred is spared in Jesse Bering's deft, rivetingly informative, and relentlessly hilarious new book. Bering's addictive curiosity and wry, dexterous humor make this a collection that's as funny as it is impossible to put down.” ―Violet Blue, award-winning author and sex educator
“Bering has an uncanny way with words, an incisive capacity for logical thinking, and a stunning talent for breathing new life and enthusiasm into science.” ―Gordon Gallup
About the Author
Jesse Bering, Ph.D. is a frequent contributor to Scientific American and Slate. His writing has also appeared in New York magazine, The Guardian, and The New Republic, among others, and has been featured by NPR, Playboy Radio, and more. The author of The Belief Instinct, Bering is the former Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at the Queen's University, Belfast, and began his career as a professor at the University of Arkansas. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
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"Why is the Peni$ Shaped Like That?" is the irreverent, thought-provoking and rather sensational book of essays on human sexuality. Dr. Jesse Bering takes us on a journey of surprising and even shocking peculiarities of being human. Using the latest of scientific research in psychology, neuroscience, biology and a naughty sense of humor Bering succeeds in enlightening the public on fascinating issues pertaining to human sexuality. This entertaining 320-page book is broken out into the following eight parts: Part I. Darwinizing What Dangles, Part II. Bountiful Bodies, Part III. Minds in the Gutter, Part IV. Strange Bedfellows, Part V. Ladie's Night, Part VI. The Gayer Science: There's Something Queer Here, Part VII. For the Bible Tells Me So and Part VIII. Into the Deep: Existential Lab Work.
1. A fun and informative book for the masses.
2. The fascinating topic of human sexuality in the irreverent hands of Jesse Bering.
3. A frank conversational tone. Bering holds nothing back to the point of being uncomfortable but when it is all said and done you are thankful that he did.
4. This book is anything but boring. The pages turn themselves. The ability of Bering to immerse science, anecdotes, sound logic, personal experiences, pop culture and humor into an engaging narrative is what makes this work.
5. This book will at times surprise, inform, disgust and educate you. In short, it's thought provoking.
6. Understanding the male reproductive anatomy. The activation hypothesis and yes an evolutionary-based explanation for the title of the book.
7. Interesting facts and findings throughout the book. Let me share one because I can't contain myself, "In fact, frequency of erotic fantasies correlates positively with intelligence".
8. Curious oddities of the human body.
9. Cannibalism...bite me.
10. The correlation between brain damages and behavior. One of my favorite essays.
11. Dirty brain science. Some very uncomfortable topics...but I couldn't look away. Fetishes...
12. Understanding the female anatomy. It's the ladies turn.
13. Unflattering stereotypes...understanding straight women who gravitate toward gay men.
14. Interesting studies on homosexuality. The differences between men and women. The roles and preferences. Educational.
15. Wonderful use of evolution. "Right is irrelevant. There is only what works and what doesn't work, within context, in biologically adaptive terms..."
16. Burial practices that need to change. A very interesting essay.
17. A hard look at suicide and a unique take regarding suicide as adaptive and from an evolutionary perspective.
18. A look at free will and one of the most thought-provoking statements, "If exposure to deterministic messages increases the likelihood of unethical actions, then identifying approaches for insulating the public against this danger becomes imperative". In general, I disagree with the statement but talk about a conversation ice breaker.
19. Comprehensive notes section.
1. I didn't like the title of this book. Sure, it reflects the author's irreverent and humorous side but for one I can never remember the title. It's like an entertaining commercial where you can never remember the product being promoted. Secondly, the title alone might keep some people from reading it and these are perhaps the ones who need to read it the most to begin with. How about a title like, "Naughty Science: Reflections on Human Sexuality"?
2. This is not so much a negative on the book but on the lack of scientific research on human sexuality. Such a fascinating topic yet it's clear that for whatever the reasons the science of human sexuality is its infancy.
3. A lot of the findings in the book are tentative. In truth, all science knowledge is tentative but it seems to me that the some of these studies require much further research. Enough there to whet the appetite but not enough to reach strong conclusions.
4. No direct links to notes on the kindle version, a real shame.
5. Some of the findings will cause cognitive dissonance. I don't agree with everything in this wonderful, thought-provoking book. As an example, I disagree with the general notion that a person who believes in supernatural punishment may be more trustworthy than one who isn't. In the fantastic book, "Society without God", Phil Zuckerman makes the compelling case that those societies without religious beliefs (or less of) are more successful, better functioning and happier places to live in. As a personal example, if was looking for a babysitter and a member of the clergy were to ring my doorbell, I'd probably be more inclined to call a policeman.
6. This book whets your appetite for more, more, more.
7. No formal bibliography.
In summary, what a trip this book was. First of all the topic of human sexuality is fascinating and rarely dealt with at the scientific level. I'm glad that for once an author has the guts in lieu of another word, to get a book like this out for the public. This book will make your cringe, laugh, disagree, concur, and ultimately think. The only thing that limits this book is the fact that the scientific research on human sexuality is still in its infancy. Be that as it may, I learned so much from this book while having fun with it. I highly recommend it!
Further suggestions: "The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life" by the same author, "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior" by Leonard Mlodinow, "Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment" by Phil Zuckerman, "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths" by Michael Shermer, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" and "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" by Steven Pinker, "Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain" and "Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique", by Michael S. Gazzaniga, "Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality" by Laurence Tancredi, "SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable" by Bruce M. Hood, "The Myth of Free Will, Revised & Expanded Edition" by Cris Evatt, and "The Brain and the Meaning of Life" by Paul Thagard. All books have been reviewed by me, look for the tag "Book Shark Review".
If you couldn't tell from the title, this book is about humans. And not just any boring book on humans, but about the not-so-much talked about and taboo topics. As Bering makes clear, this is a science book. Good ol' fashioned materialistic science. From there, Bering probes deeply into what makes humans unique and why we are the way that we are.
The one thing I'm disappointed about is that since this is a collection of essays, most are available online. That being said, I am glad Bering collected them into one, easy-to-read book. I even found myself laughing out loud. Now I can have friends over and wow them with amazing facts about the penis, ejaculation, and other things that make us, us. There are so many fascinating facts that, honestly, I've been using lately when there's a lull in conversation.
Bering's writing style is effortless, witty, and a joy to read. If you're looking for an entertaining tour of the human body and mind, this is the book for you!
Unfortunately, though, this book is primarily about the author. Now, I think some personal asides, and anecdotes, and opinions can real help make a book a lot less dry and a lot more readable. This guy, though, goes way overboard.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the author seems to be a bit of an exhibitionist. He just so happens to be gay and an atheist, and seems to want to make sure you know that on pretty much every page.
He's also rather surprisingly patronizing - if you don't happen to be gay and atheist like him, that is. Just to give you an idea, here are a couple of chapter titles:
- Good Christians (But Only on Sundays)
- God's Little Rabbits: Believers Out-produce Nonbelievers by a Landslide
- The Bitch Evolved: Why Are Girls So Cruel to Each Other
There's lots more within the body of the book, but I really just couldn't be bothered to record it all.
Now, personally, I don't mind that kind of style at all. I'm just not so sure it applies to this particular topic so well.
Evolutionary biology and psychology (EBP) are rather controversial topics. It's not that their opponents are all fundamentalist dimwits (like Bering would probably like to believe), but rather that some very serious scientists have some major questions about them (in particular, seeing them as lending themselves to lots of theorizing and very little evidence).
In this regard, this book reminds me of a couple of others: Consumed, by Geoffrey Miller, and The Consuming Instinct, by Gad Saad. I guess all these authors see themselves as simply trying to popularize what is pretty fascinating material. Unfortunately, though, they sometimes come across as arrogant know-it-alls instead.
Now, all this criticism is coming from someone who actually loves and believes strongly in EBP. And that's really why I'm so hard on these guys. I think they are doing a real disservice to their field sometimes when they write like this.
Another problem that this particular style introduces is that it can really take away from the content. For Bering, for example, he tends to cite only single studies for each of his chapters. Now, some of these are great, but I'd really like to see a little bit more critical thinking about additional studies, claims and counter-claims, examples and counter-examples.
Especially when what you get with him instead is lots of personal filler; tortured, lengthy efforts to be punny; and lots of meandering. (The worst example of that last bit is a chapter about green burial that seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with EBP.)
Anyway, to not be so serious about all this ... If you're looking for a good snarky read about some pretty interesting and unusual stuff, definitely give it a shot!
The chapters are a bit mixed in strength. For example, i found the chapter about the shape of penis much more interesting than that on laughter, and the chapter on sex while sleep walking much more interesting than that on relgious reminders, but overall, it was a fun and fast read, and one that has lead to many interesting conversations with others.
And as for the answer to the books title -- why, you'll have to read it to find out, but it is a rather interesting answer.
p.s. Below please find some of my favorite passages for your reference.
For the evolutionary psychologists, the pressing questions are, essentially, Why is it like that? And What is that for? The answer isn't always that it's a biological adaptation - that it solved some evolutionary problem and therefore gave our ancestors a competitive edge in terms of their reproductive success. Sometimes a trait is just a byproduct of other adaptations. Blood isn't red, for e.g., because red worked better than green or yellow blue, but only because it contains the red hemoglobin protein, which happens to be an excellent transporter of oxygen and carbon dioxide. But in the case of the human penis, all signs point to a genuine adaptive reason that it has come to look the way it does. Pg18
Male partner income correlated strongly and positively with female orgasm frequency, and this income effect panned out even after the authors controlled for a host of extraneous variables, including health, happiness, education , the woman's personal income, and "Westernization." Pg160
The amoral beauty of Darwinian thinking is that it does not or at least should not and cannot prescribe any social behavior, sexual or otherwise, as being the right thing to do. Right is irrelevant. There is only what works and what doesn't work, within context, in biologically adaptive terms. Pg182
There are two main stages associated with a dead and dying romantic relationship, which is so often tied to one partner's infidelities. During the protest stage that occurs in the immediate aftermath of rejection, abandoned lovers are generally dedicated to winning their sweetheart back. They obsessively dissect the relationship, trying to establish what went wrong; and they doggedly strategize about how to rekindle the romance. Disappointed lovers often make dramatic, humiliating, or even dangerous entrances into a beloved's home or place or work, and then storm out, only to return and plead anew. ....At the neurobiological level, the protest stage is characterized by unusually heightened, even frantic activity of dopamine and norepinephrine receptors in the brain, which has the effect of pronounced alertness similar to what is found in young animal abandoned by their mothers. This impassioned protest stage slowly disintegrates into the second stage of heartbreak, "resignation/despair", in which the rejected party gives up all hope of ever getting back together. "Drugged by sorrow"....At the level of the brain, overtaxed dopamine making cells begin sputtering out, causing lethargy and depression.....So we may not be "naturally monogamous" as a species, but neither are we entirely naturally polygamous. Pg184
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