A MIND OF ITS OWN by David M. Friedman


A Cultural History of the Penis
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Everything you always wanted to know about man’s closest friend.

Both scourge and blessing, conduit to excruciating torment and boundless bliss, the penis elicits the worst and the best in man, from rapist to lover. Journalist Friedman tracks this double path throughout the centuries, beginning with the devilish story of an accused witch’s execution for her dalliance with Satan’s icy protuberance. A constant stream of similarly anecdotal evidence illustrates the manifold reactions from horror to adoration the male member has provoked. Religious reflection on supernatural penises—from the demon rod of Satan to the divine member of Christ, with a special nod to Priapus, the minor Greek deity of the phallus—establishes the foundation for all the cultural crises the penis has created over the years. The major names in penile history (da Vinci, Freud, Mailer) all make their appearances in Friedman’s doughty history, but the true pleasure here lies in the moments of inspired lunacy provided by humanity’s tormented relationship with sexuality and the human body. How far have we come? Friedman notes two particularly telling moments at scholarly conferences 300 years apart. In order to share his 1677 discovery of spermatozoa with the scientific community, Anton van Leeuwenhoek first had to attest that he was not a chronic masturbator but had obtained his specimens during the established course of marital relations. By contrast, physician Giles Brindley suffered no such embarrassment when, in 1983, he trotted his own medically enhanced erection through a throng of urologists at a Las Vegas medical convention, leading the charge for medically sanctioned tumescence and corporate cash. In between the snickers, Friedman clear-headedly investigates the ways in which the penis has been deployed as an instrument of oppression, sexism, and racism.

Like its subject: not for everyone, but a model of its kind.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 2001
ISBN: 0-684-85320-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2001


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