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.