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A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis [Paperback]

David Friedman
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Nov 2009
Whether enemy or ally, demon or god, the penis is much more than a body part. Here, in an enlightening and entertaining cultural study, is a book that puts into context the central role of the penis within Western civilization. Deified by ancient pagan cultures and demonized by the early Roman church, the penis was later secularized by pioneering anatomists such as Leonardo da Vinci. After being measured 'scientifically' in an effort to subjugate some races while elevating others, the organ was psychoanalysed by Sigmund Freud. Now, after being politicized by feminism and exploited in countless ways by pop culture, Friedman shows how the arrival of erection industry products such as Viagra is more than a health or business story. It is the latest chapter in one of the longest sagas in human history: the story of man's relationship with his penis.

Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd (30 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0709089333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0709089339
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 327,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Friedman proves - with wit and learning - that our most significant organ is the one below the belt, not the one above the neck.' Independent 'A Mind of its Own is educational and entertaining by virtue of an amazing amount of information gathered from a wide range of mythical medical, cultural and scientific, historical and humorous sources.' BMJ 'A Mind of Its Own is fascinating - in other words, as powerful and intriguing as an erection.' --Guardian

About the Author

David M. Friedman has written for Esquire, GQ, Rolling Stone, Vogue and many other publications. He lives in New York City.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not what it seems 16 Nov 2004
The first page I opened this book at contained an incredible howler. "By...1275, the penis had virtually disappeared from Western art for eight hundred years."
This is completely false, because hundreds of Romanesque churches (in France, Spain and England) have penises, ithyphallic males, megaphallic males and even masturbating males plain to see upon them (see the website [...] to check this out). So this book lacks basic scholarship, for a start.
It also lacks focus, is given to mere anecdote, and has pathetic pictures. Like many penises, it does not live up to its promise. I shall donate my copy to the local library.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Little Classic 10 Feb 2013
By Hu(man)
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Here you will find a witty, yet solid work on the history and lore of the penis in the Western tradition, from Aristotle through Freud and beyond. The author traces what the male organ of reproduction has stood for since the early Greeks, through its resurrection by Augustine and on to its have been center stage in modern sexology and psychoanalysis. The political trappings of this puzzling icon of generation are also explored.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  29 reviews
85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A humorous but well-documented history of the penis 18 May 2002
By F. Orion Pozo - Published on Amazon.com
It is hard to write a book about the penis without dealing in euphemisms and double entendres. Yet this book uses them well to show the role the penis has played in the development of western culture. The book is a cultural history of the penis, and explores human (mostly men's) thinking about the male reproductive organs.
The first chapter, The Demon Rod, explores the moral view of the penis as it developed from ancient times through Christianized Western European thought. Is the penis a gift of the gods or man's link with the devil? This is the question that is explored in this chapter. From the phallic cults of ancient Sumer, Egypt, Greece and Rome, through the Jewish circumcision pact, to the demonization of the penis by Christian thinkers like Augustine, the role of the penis in the relationship of man to his god is explored.
Chapter Two, The Gear Shift, starts with Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical dissections and examines the early attempts of western science to discover the biological rather than the mythical aspects of the penis. The period covered is the 16th through the 19th century. Most of the science, though well-intentioned, is colored by the moral thinking of the time. Although much is learned, many false theories coexist with newly discovered anatomical facts.
The next chapter is called The Measuring Stick and is a look at the theories surrounding Racism and penis size. It outlines the history of the belief that males of African heritage have greater penile size than any other race. From Noah to Mapplethorp, the fascination and fear associated with this concept and the racial theories that developed along side it are well laid out.
The Cigar is Chapter Four and it explores the influence of the penis on Freud and psychoanalytical thought. Here we move from the physical manifestation of the penis to its effects on the psyche, both in the individual and the culture. With quotes from Freud's writings, we see his development of the theories of the Oedipus Complex and the vaginal orgasm, and their effects on modern society.
Chapter Five, entitled The Battering Ram, is a look at the feminist reaction of the 1960s to the Freudian emphasis on the penis and vaginal orgasm. These feminist thinkers shift the focus to the clitoris as the center of satisfying sexual relationships for women. From Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique to Andrea Dworkin's Pornography, the link between the penis and sexual violence in feminist writings is outlined in wonderful detail.
The final chapter, The Punctureproof Balloon returns to the physiological study of the penis that started in chapter two. However, this chapter picks up with the 19th Century with its quacks and misinformed physicians and takes us up to the present day's modern medical marvels. Here we see urologists taking the study of impotence away from psychoanalysts and developing medical treatments. This is a wonderful historic outline of the creation and cultural impact of Viagra and other pharmaceutical treatments for Erectile Dysfunction.
All in all this is a fascinating popular treatment of a topic that tends to either not be discussed or is discussed so informally as to have little regard for the facts. This book tells it all and backs up the facts with 35 pages of Notes to the bibliographic sources. To help the reader find the facts a 12 page Index ends the book. Eight pages of black and white pictures illustrate some of the topics described in the book. This book is entertaining and informative reading for anyone who has ever wanted to know about this organ and its role in society.
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It really rises to the occasion! 31 Oct 2001
By Jeff Abell - Published on Amazon.com
Feminists have been bashing "phallocentric" culture for a couple of decades now, but most have not bothered to examine or explicate the central element of such culture, namely the male organ itself. David M. Friedman has written a well-researched, admirably forthright account of Western culture's alternating aversion toward and obsession with the penis. Friedman tracks this evolution from the semen-drenched religious texts of ancient Sumer (where the word for semen is the same as water, and the gods literally bathe the world in sperm) through the ancient Greeks and then how the organ was "demonized" by St. Augustine and the Catholic church. Other chapters consider how racism has centered for centuries on white male fear of macrophallic African men, as well as Freud's attempt to "universalize" penis envy and castration anxiety. While one might quibble with a scholarly detail here and there (notably Friedman's acceptance of Foucault's theories about Greek sexuality, which have been notably contradicted by more recent scholarship), this is such a well-researched and engagingly written study that it deserves to be widely read. Men and women alike will gain a clearer understanding of why we put fig-leaves on statues and why a cigar is not always just a good smoke.
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars NOT a sex book, a cultural history, as per the title 5 Jan 2002
By Alexander M. Moir - Published on Amazon.com
Though the store had it filed under pornography, this book is not at all pertinent to that smarmiest of genres. It's a cultural summary of the significance of the male genitals around the world and throughout history. Sometimes anthropological, sometimes psychological, sometimes medical (perhaps to a fault), and often exhibiting wry humor, the book is modest in scope and level of analysis, and certainly a good read.
My personal interests, as an anthropologist, were the sections which discuss the ancient and religious history of the genitals, up through the Middle Ages and into the well-meaning pseudo-science of the nineteenth century. Not so engrossing, I thought, are the later chapters. "The Measuring Stick" goes a bit too far and graphically into homosexual fantasy, and the last chapter was a downright disappointment, as its discussion of modern views on the male genitals becomes a scientific tract on testicular surgery with way too many medical details and terminology.
In the end, the book begins well, ends not so well, and in my opinion, is well-written enough throughout that it remains for the most part pleasing.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Genious of Penious 10 Dec 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
The other night I was telling a friend of mine ...--to go along with an omniverous intellect and particular interests in the sciences--why he would like this book. I explained that the author had done a remarkable job of synthesizing medical information and cultural ideas of various disciplines from throughout Western civilization (from the Greeks to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Enlightenment, right though the modern era) as they pertain to what turns out to be the fantastically rich vehicle of the male organ. It's the kind of book you want to read passages of aloud to a friend, because they're edifying and illuminating ("testify" comes from testes), not to mention off-handedly hilarious. More than simply a good read, "A Mind of Its Own" is thought-provoking; we live in an era of incurable sexually transmitted diseases and a headlong commitment to creating the bulletproof penis. Friedman's book limns this penile paradox, and their precedents over the last couple of millennia. I'll be giving this book as a Christmas gift to friends who will get a kick out of the topic, and appreciate the serious and witty way it is handled.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Than Expected 20 Oct 2003
By Thomas M. Seay - Published on Amazon.com
I had seen this book on Amazon before and by-passed it, thinking that it would be little more than an anthology of dick stories, past and present. Do not make that mistake. This is a well-researched book that investigates the religious, scientific, racial, political and psychological dimensions - pun intended- of the penis throughout Western History, from Ancient Greece to Viagra. On the other hand, do not fret that it is a dry tome;the author presents the material in an entertaining manner with just the right amount of ribaldry. So interesting is the book that I read the entire 300+ pages in two sittings.
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