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Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire Paperback – 14 May 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The Westbourne Press (14 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908906006
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908906007
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 492,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"A wonderful exposure of the illogicality of so much legislation that attempts to regulate sexual activity ... from the age of consent to adultery and sex on college campuses." --Mary Beard

"I don't think I've ever read such an entertaining historical work. It has the wisdom granted by perspective, without the condescension of someone who thinks we're wiser than our ancestors. Whether you want to fuel your indignation, or simply furnish yourself with enough jaw-dropping data to galvanise a hundred party conversations, you really must shell out for this book. It's worth every penny." --Nicholas Lezard, Guardian

"At once broad-ranging and rich in detail, Berkowitz s cross examination of human sexuality is both exciting and impressively relentless." --James McConnachie, Sunday Times

"...throughout history men and women have been forced to pay a fearful price for doing what to the birds and bees comes naturally. As Eric Berkowitz points out in this fascinating and gruesomely compelling study of human sexuality, the consequences for those whose proclivities fall outside the boundaries of convention have generally proved devastating." --Simon Griffith, Mail on Sunday

"Throughout Berkowitz smoothly straddles the divide between the explicit and the subtle, the ridiculous and the sublime....Sex and Punishment constantly reminds us not to be complacent about past victories - nor to rest until genuine equality has been won, from the barricades to the bedroom." --Socialist Review

"Stimulating ... Berkowitz has achieved a perfect balance between case study and analysis, and between narrative and reflection. ... This is a wonderfully well-written, well-organised and accomplished book. But it comes with a health warning. 350 pages of sex resulting in impalement or a barbed fish up the bottom may have a deleterious effect on the libido." --Sara Wheeler, Literary Review

"An illuminating and deftly told account of the two urges that have done so much to define civilization: humanity s appetite for sex and its concern to regulate the consequences. As Eric Berkowitz shows, both impulses have been in flux for centuries, and his colourful history serves as a timely reminder of just how arbitrary and ludicrous the moral certainties of one era can appear to the next." --Sadakat Kadri, author of 'The Trial: A History, from Socrates to O. J. Simpson'

" Eric Berkowitz leads us through the inventive and ultimately futile ways that mankind has tried to tame its most troublesome pleasure. His compehensive tour is sometimes funny, more often scary but always entertaining." --A. J. Langguth, author of 'Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution'

"Sex and Punishment is built on solid scholarship and spiced with plenty of sordid details that will make you the hit of any cocktail party." --Christopher Ryan, author of 'Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality'

"I --Tony Perrottet, author of 'Napoleon's Privates'

Stimulating ... Berkowitz has achieved a perfect balance between case study and analysis, and between narrative and reflection. ... This is a wonderfully well-written, well-organised and accomplished book. But it comes with a health warning. 350 pages of sex resulting in impalement or a barbed fish up the bottom may have a deleterious effect on the libido." --Sara Wheeler, Literary Review

"An illuminating and deftly told account of the two urges that have done so much to define civilization: humanity s appetite for sex and its concern to regulate the consequences. As Eric Berkowitz shows, both impulses have been in flux for centuries, and his colourful history serves as a timely reminder of just how arbitrary and ludicrous the moral certainties of one era can appear to the next." --Sadakat Kadri, author of 'The Trial: A History, from Socrates to O. J. Simpson'

" Eric Berkowitz leads us through the inventive and ultimately futile ways that mankind has tried to tame its most troublesome pleasure. His compehensive tour is sometimes funny, more often scary but always entertaining." --A. J. Langguth, author of 'Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution'

"Sex and Punishment is built on solid scholarship and spiced with plenty of sordid details that will make you the hit of any cocktail party." --Christopher Ryan, author of 'Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality'

"It's rare that a book so well researched and provocative is also so downright entertaining Sex and Punishment will have you gripped and fascinated (and sometimes laughing out loud) at how legal systems over the millennia have attempted to regulate mankind's unruly carnal desires. The chapter on ancient Mesopotamia alone is worth the price of the book." --Tony Perrottet, author of 'Napoleon's Privates'

About the Author

Eric Berkowitz is a lawyer and journalist. He has published investigative pieces in the Los Angeles Times and the LA Weekly, and was an editor of the West Coast s premier legal publication, the Los Angeles Daily Journal. Eric maintains a public interest law practice, where he represents victims of domestic violence as well as homosexuals seeking political asylum in the United States. He lives in San Francisco.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 11 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback
This book traces the ways in which society has judged and controlled sexual behaviour, beginning over four thousand years ago in ancient Egypt and closing with Oscar Wilde's trial in 1895. As the author himself states in his opening, to attempt to investigate the twentieth and twenty-first centuries would have required another book.

It's a fascinating book, looking at changing attitudes and responses towards all manner of sexual behaviour - masturbation, necrophilia, adultery, abortion, prostitution, sadomasochism, homosexuality. You name it, someone somewhere has done it, and someone else has tried to forbid it. It looks at ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, before moving to focus primarily on Western attitudes and legal attempts to control sexual behaviour.

Some parts were incredibly eye-opening to say the least (the punishments in Ancient Egypt involving rape by donkeys, to say the least), and other parts made me laugh out loud: a Catholic priest's advice on resisting 'spontaneous orgasms' - pretty much lie down, think of God and hope it goes away!

My one criticism is that it focuses too much on just a small handful of countries. Once we've most past ancient history there is no more focus on Egypt, Persia or the Middle East, and the attitudes towards sex there are just as interesting. It focuses very heavily on Britain, America, France and Germany, pretty much to the exclusion of every other country on earth. I can understand that a book focusing on sex worldwide would be massive in scope and size, but even so, some more mentions of the last two thousand years in Egypt or Iraq or Russia or Africa would have been nice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By G G S COLLINS on 6 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book after reading a positive review and was not disappointed! It follows attempts by authority - both world states and religions - to regulate the sexual activities of humankind. Some of the facts are bizarre in the extreme; in ancient Egypt certain sexual activities were punished by the miscreant being raped by a donkey. In all societies it was the female that received the severest punishments with often the male being let off with a caution or less. One thing that struck me in particular was that the current attitudes of certain societies and religions toward women, including to a lesser extent our own, has barely changed over thousands of years - that women are the property of men and so under their control. Hypocrisy is another thread that has continued over the millenia. An excellent book that is well written, in places humorous and very informative. It's a pity that it does not extend to attitudes in the 20th and the current century.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Paul Woodfine on 14 July 2012
Format: Paperback
The "punishment" refers to legal penalties, not BDSM role-playing. This is a book about the way societies have legislated sex between about the Greeks and the nineteenth-centuary. Eric Berkowitz is a San Francisco-based lawyer and so it's full of gamey legal cases. However, occasionally it tilts...

"It was in the eighteenth century that life for many in the West began to resemble life as we know it today: urban, mobile, sexually liberal...If a time traveller were to enter [an eighteenth century] tavern and strike up a conversation, he would find common ground for chatter. If he were interested in finding sex, it would be likely to be available in the alehouse's back rooms, or close by."

So the eighteenth century was just like now, except for the bit where sex isn't available in alehouses anymore and there was no soccer.

There are plenty of well-told cases here, though it's worth remembering that lawyers see the exceptions, not the rules. People did some weird stuff with animals in the past, but it was punished not because it was common and undesirable, but because it was rare and disgusting. The Past seen through legal cases is a much more exciting place than seen through a list of grocery bills. Berkowitz concentrates on Western sexual morality, and specifically the sexual morality that comes from Middle Eastern religions. These are notoriously patriarchal, repressive, extreme and unrepresentative of the way that the rest of the world - from Greece to India and China - treats and treated sex.

Which brings us to the problem with so many American books about social and sexual issues, which must already know what the problem is: Men, Patriarchy, and all that jazz.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By anna w on 6 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this off the back of a review in the Guardian, and I'm so pleased that I did, from early civilisation through to the 20th Century Eric Berkowitz's amazingly researched book takes an entertaining and educating look at the way that sexuality has been policed by church and state.Berkowitz writes in a witty and engaging style that makes the information accessible (and quotable to friends!)Some of the punishments decscribed are jaw droppingly awful, but serve to highlight the double standards of the time and the demonisation of- predominantly female- sexuality,throughout the ages. Fascinating stuff- highly recommended.
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By Tweedledum on 17 Dec. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
After reading this I will never be tempted to wish myself in Ancient Rome, or Egypt, or Babylonia etc etc again. The facts that have been brought to light from the murkiness of long lost civilisations are a salutary reminder, if one were needed, of how significant are the freedoms we so take for granted and throw into sharp relief the areas of the world where those freedoms continue to be denied or are actively threatened.
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