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A History of Celibacy: from Athena to Elizabeth I, Leornardo Da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Ghandi and Cher (Antique Collectors Guide) Paperback – 16 Feb 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Lutterworth Press (16 Feb. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0718830067
  • ISBN-13: 978-0718830069
  • Product Dimensions: 15.8 x 2.8 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,053,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'And you thought celibacy could only be dull, unimpassioned stuff. Elizabeth Abbott has written the definitive history of a subject most of us want nothing to do with, and it's a fascinating, lively and moving tome indeed ... Abbott takes us into the lives of celibates, both willing and forced, noble and deluded, throughout history and across continent and cultures. A stimulating book.' --McGill News

'A juicy insightful survey, as readable as it is intellectually sophisticated, alternately witty and moving. Abbott documents a thousand shades of motive for saying no to sex. She manages to describe extreme behavior without sinking into either anachronistic psychologizing or valueless relativism. It's a remarkably effective approach to a topic that might easily inspire jokes or judgement.' --Village Voice Literary Supplement

'Celibacy seems an odd topic for a witty and compelling book, but Elizabeth Abbott manages to make her subject fascinating.'

'A History of Celibacy explores the full length of that fascinating shadow, tracing the history of self-containment from the mythical virgins of the Greeks and Romans to a new celibacy in the age of AIDS, with stops along the way to examine such strange fauna as Leonardo da Vinci and Mahatma Gandhi, John Ruskin and Joan of Arc.' --Elle

'Based on a great deal of knowledge but told with grace, wit and a wry sense of the conditions under which women live. Abbott seems to have read just about everything ever written on her chosen subject. This is a bulky book but not difficult to read and its pleasures are many. Elizabeth Abbott appends an astute select bibliography that runs to 22 pages, providing a further reason for buying her book.' --The Globe and Mail (Canada)

'Elegantly chronicles expressions of celibacy through the ages.' --Elm Street (Canada)

'A History of Celibacy is a fresh take on the history of sex which is perhaps why this juicy tome was a surprise best seller in Canada.' --Entertainment Weekly

'Ambitious and wide-ranging... she makes a convincing case that throughout much of history celibacy, was an attractive option for women.' --The New Yorker

'...a breathless survey of sexual abstention, willing or unwilling, from the ancient world to the present day.' --Mary Beard, The Times Literary Supplement, November 16, 2001

About the Author

With a doctorate in 19th century history, Elizabeth Abbott is Dean of Women Students at Trinity College, University of Toronto, where she co-teaches a history course. She is also a journalist specialising in social history and the environment, her work having appeared in the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Mail. She is Chair of the Rights and Freedoms committee of the Writers' Union of Canada, and writer for the Sensible Creatures committee of the Anglican Church. Her first book was praised by Graham Greene as "The best book in depth on the Haitian situation that I have ever read."

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. Goddard on 7 April 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author should be congratulated for her voluminous research. I learned a lot from this book. Also, to my knowledge there isn't anything else out there on this subject. In that sense, it is a pathbreaking introduction to an important area of history. However, it really should have been at least 50 to 100 pages shorter. The editors should have stepped in and stopped the author repeating herself so often. There was also a tendency to make sweeping generalisations, to use emotive language and, near the end, to engage in what was practically a rant about the the Roman Catholic position on celibacy. All of this made it fall short as an academic treatment of the subject. However, the biggest flaw was due to the publishers, not the author. In my copy, all the footnotes were there at the back but there were no footnote numbers at all in the text itself. If I'd been the author, I'd have been appalled to find all my hard work in providing such footnotetes almost wasted. Having said all that, this is still a book worth reading for anyone interested in this subject. A lot of hard graft went into it and if you persist beyond the things that grate you'll come away with a fair amount of respect for the author's energy in unearthing so much that is inspiring, and appalling (some of the inhumanity involved makes the mind boggle), in the saga of celibacy during the past three thousand years.
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Format: Paperback
In "A History of celibacy", academic Elizabeth Abbott sets off to describe celibates and celibacies in all cultures and in all times: from Ancient Greek concepts of celibacy to modern, twentieth century celibacy, from religious celibacies in the world's best known religions and the celibacy of shamans and ancient civilizations, to celibacies that are not religious. In the passages on "celibacy for non-religious reasons", we are told about people who are celibate because the government of their countries regulates their sex lives in invasive ways, people who are celibate due to a fear of STDs and AIDS, historical figures who had bad breakups and could not engage in relationships as a result, gay people who hate their own sexuality and therefore refuse it... This book offers to give an overview of all this and more. Even for an academic like Elizabeth Abbott, this is a very ambitious project for a book. Because this book is trying to be this ambitious, it could have failed in so many ways, but it doesn't.

Even though this is the first "celibacy book" I am reading myself, it is quite clear to me that Abbott intended this book to be a reference in the field of "celibacy studies". This book clearly manages to do that. A "gender studies", "sexuality studies" student or sociologist will find a good starting point to understanding the way celibacy and its opposite, sexuality, have informed human thought throughout the ages. But more importantly, this book is not written in a jargon-like, technical, hard to understand style. Abbott is a historian, and also very much of a storyteller. Every chapter of this massive book is divided into smaller, easy to apprehend subchapters about all she discusses.
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