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How Pleasure Works: Why we like what we like Paperback – 2 Jun 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (2 Jun. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099548763
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099548768
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 102,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The book inside is an even better book than the one the title promises... Bloom is a superb writer. His gift is in writing beautifully but plainly, and anticipating everything a reader will need to know in order to appreciate the point he will ultimately make...it was a great pleasure to read" (Globe and Mail (Canada))

"Paul Bloom is among the deepest thinkers and clearest writers in the science of mind today. He has a knack for coming up with genuinely new insights about mental life...and making them seem second nature through vivid examples and lucid explanations" (Steven Pinker)

"Bloom is a serious professional who knows his stuff" (Michael Bywater Literary Review)

"Thoughtful and entertaining" (Times Literary Supplement)

"Bloom's book is different from the slew already out there about happiness. No advice here about how to become happier by organising your closets; Bloom is after something deeper than the mere stuff of feeling good" (Robin Heniq The Scotsman)

Book Description

The internationally acclaimed psychologist Paul Bloom explores one of the most fascinating and fundamental engines of human behaviour - the new science of why we like what we like.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Shove Coupler on 10 Sept. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this book, despite the rather tabloid-newspaper title. I first heard about it in connection with appreciation of modern art, and I had hoped it would go into much more detail about this, but it's very much about how we ascribe value to things we like, not about art or culture as such. It deals with pleasure in all its forms - food, sex, aesthetics, etc.

There are some interesting thought experiments (along the lines of why is a mass-produced object which once belonged to someone famous more valuable than an identical object which didn't)

The author does tend to reel off lists of research which has supported this-or-that hypothesis but without much background detail, so you're kind of taking it all on trust. I don't disagree with his conclusions, but wonder whether they couldn't have been drawn just as well in an article in New Scientist for example.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. N. Moffatt on 21 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have to disagree with the other reviewers. This book is essentially a set of essays that describe our value systems.

It is not, really, what I was looking for. I was looking for the factors that make us experience pleasure, both biochemical as well as psychological.

It is true that our value systems impact on our experience of pleasure. He rightly points out that our experience of a fine wine, for example, is in good part a consequence of our expectations, in turn a result of our value systems - it was an expensive wine so we 'know' it will taste good.

But covering just one aspect of pleasure makes the book too one dimensional for me, with the bulk of many chapters used to build long arguments to explain a single value system. What about the role of neurotransmitters? What about the pleasures we experience that are at odds to our value systems? What about the relationship between pleasure and happiness?

Maybe my expectations created disappointment. But this book reads far too much like a book on psychology with too weak a link to pleasure.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By big bad Bob on 20 Aug. 2012
Format: Paperback
"How Pleasure Works" is an interesting book, and if you are interested in the subject area, then you will probably find it is an enjoyable and informative read. However, I found it to be disappointing, and I think this is a case of a book being "oversold" - though the cover suggests wealth, alcohol, TV, food etc. will be described and explained as a "pleasure provider", actually none of the book is about this. This is not a book about Pleasure, but about Value.

What this book in fact is about, is how we allocate "Value" to an item, such as a pen once owned by Albert Einstein, a sweatshirt once owned by a film star, a painting made by a famous artist, or a favourite toy owned by a child as opposed to an identical toy the child is not familiar with. Whilst the authors theory of "essence" is interesting in itself and does have considerable value, the book does not answer the questions that it sets itself, such as why do some people self harm?, why do some individuals become addicts whilst their sibling does not? why would an individual enjoy watching a football match?

This is a set of essays on "Value" as defined by the "Essence" model of the author - interesting, but not as in-depth or informative as it might pretend to be in the introduction or on the cover.
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Format: Paperback
There's an interesting central thesis here: pleasure doesn't work for us as it does for other animals. That's because in addition to straightforward pleasures, there are also pleasures critically linked to our beliefs. And those beliefs in turn are deeply linked to what Paul Bloom terms an essentialist view of the world. That is to say a view that he thinks (with some interesting evidence) we are sort of born with, that inclines us to interpret the things in the world has having inner essences that make them the way they are. Bloom's central thesis about pleasure, then, is that our pleasure are not like those of other creatures in so far as they are critically linked up with this 'essentialist' view of the world.

Does this work? On the plus side, we value things that have belonged to other people or are produced by their essence. We may decide in extreme cases to eat other people to acquire their essence. Certainly we'd like to acquire their clothing (and not dry-cleaned first, please!) And children do seem to have this view that eg 'boys are just made of different stuff inside from girls'.

Throughout this book is very learned, and discusses a wide range of theories ('display' theories based on sexual election in the case of art clearly have at least something going for them; and are very persuasive when it comes to the learning of Latin!). That's part of its charm. But to look at just one chapter, on attraction, mating and love.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on 27 Jun. 2010
Format: Hardcover
How Pleasure Works is a great book - it's entertaining and informative, and also surprising - as well as surprisingly funny. It examines different sources of pleasure - from food, to sex, to art, different forms of entertainment, and so on - and discusses recent findings in cognitive science (including a few of the author's own) that tell us about the surprisingly complex and sometimes deeply puzzling nature of human pleasure. The author argues that pleasure is not primarily a response to certain perceptual & sensory experiences, but instead has a significant cognitive component - what we think about something (whether or not we're correct) has a huge impact on how much pleasure we derive from it. The book contains many examples, which range from mildly surprising, to deeply puzzling, to just plain weird; some are very funny. The author has a fresh, engaging and easy style of writing, unlike what one finds in many science books for the lay public - this is enormously fun to read. Opening it up to any random page you'll almost certainly find yourself pulled in and getting caught up in the discussion - this book is hard to put down!
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