'Tis Pity She's a Whore,"" wrote playwright John Ford in 1633, summing up society's general attitude toward prostitutes. But Roberts, a former London ""sex worker"" (i.e., stripper), begs to disagree--and, in this impressively researched history, she offers an articulate socioeconomic/political defense of the reputedly oldest profession. Taking on the male academics whom she claims are the primary writers about prostitution, as well as feminists who ""tend to regard all prostitution as female sexual slavery,"" Roberts contends that ""in a society which worships money and material achievements to the extent that ours does, becoming a prostitute is a rational decision for a woman to make."" She roots this argument in a vigorously detailed chronicle that ranges from prehistoric matriarchal societies to today's male-dominated world in which prostitutes are organizing into guilds such as PONY (Prostitutes of New York). Prostitution, Roberts says, began with the dawn of patriarchy, when kings ruled but the Goddess and her priestesses--""sacred"" prostitutes--held spiritual sway. But by 2000 B.C., ""the division of women into wives and whores"" was set. Drawing on historical and literary sources, Roberts traces prostitution as a socioeconomic phenomenon through ancient Greece and Rome, medieval times, the Renaissance, and on to the present, finding that, despite an enduring hypocrisy by which men have always turned to whores while at the same time branding them with a ""stigma"" (""the original tool of patriarchal oppression""), prostitution has proven for many working-class women the most viable way to escape poverty. According to one 1980 survey of English prostitutes, in fact, ""over 70% were single mothers."" Some of Roberts's findings are surprising and debatable--e.g., that ""whores are not a high-risk category for AIDS""--but, overall, this vital and original study goes a long way toward restoring the dignity of a much-maligned group of outcasts.