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How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like
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How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like [Kindle Edition]

Paul Bloom
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“Engaging, evocative. . . . [Bloom] is a supple, clear writer, and his parade of counterintuitive claims about pleasure is beguiling.”—NPR

Why is an artistic masterpiece worth millions more than a convincing forgery? Pleasure works in mysterious ways, as Paul Bloom reveals in this investigation of what we desire and why. Drawing on a wealth of surprising studies, Bloom investigates pleasures noble and seamy, lofty and mundane, to reveal that our enjoyment of a given thing is determined not by what we can see and touch but by our beliefs about that thing’s history, origin, and deeper nature.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bloom (Descartes' Baby), a psychology professor at Yale, explores pleasure from evolutionary and social perspectives, distancing himself from the subject's common association with the senses. By examining studies and anecdotes of pleasure-inducing activities like eating, art, sex, and shopping, Bloom posits that pleasure takes us closer to the essence of a thing, be it animal, vegetable, or mineral. He argues that humans seem to be hard-wired to give, as well as receive, pleasure. A study using mislabeled, cheap bottles of wine, wherein "Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only twelve said this of the cheap label," demonstrates the complicated sociological components behind what we find pleasurable. Bloom even briefly examines positive reactions to very hot food and other "controlled doses of pain." And a study where rhesus monkeys chose pictures of female hindquarters and high-status monkeys over fruit juice allows the author to surmise that "Two major vices-pornography and celebrity worship-are not exclusively human."
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“Sigmund Freud, Mr. Pleasure Principle himself, would have approved.” (Time)

“A gracefully written book and a lot of fun.” (Peter D. Kramer - Slate)

Should stoke your neurons into a frenzy and leave you wanting more.” (Mary Carmichael -

“Drawing on his own research as well as studies in neuroscience, behavioral economics, and philosophy, [Bloom] makes a powerful argument for essentialism at the crux of human pleasure.” (Maywa Montenegro - Seed Magazine)

“Scholarly yet spy…. Bloom salts the book with all manner of pungent, apposite points…. A heartening, well-developed argument.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A book that is different from the slew already out there on the general subject of happiness. No advice here about how to become happier by organizing your closest; Bloom is after something deeper than the mere stuff of feeling good.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“In this eloquent and provocative book, Paul Bloom takes us inside the paradoxes of pleasure, exploring everything from cannibalism to Picasso to IKEA furniture. The quirks of delight, it turns out, are a delightful way to learn about the human mind.” (Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide)

“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—ones that you haven't already read about or thought of—and making them seem second nature through vivid examples and lucid explanations.” (Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works)

“This book is not just a pleasure, but a revelation, by one of psychology’s deepest thinkers and best writers. Lucid and fascinating, you’ll want to read it slowly and savor the experience.” (Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness)

How Pleasure Works has one of the best discussions I’ve read of why art is pleasurable, why it matters to us, and why it moves us so.” (Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession)

“This book is a pearl, a work of great beauty and value, built up around a simple truth: that we are essentialists, tuned in to unseen order.” (Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom)

Product Details

  • File Size: 437 KB
  • Print Length: 280 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 20, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003KVKQS2
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,699 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
95 of 110 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing: More philosophy than scientific rigor August 3, 2010
With "new science" in the title, I was expecting more from this book. Although a few research studies are mentioned here and there this is more of a philosophical discussion resolving around an essentialist theory of pleasure than something based on scientific research. Whole sections consist of speculative discussions with no evidence to back them up. The author frequently cites works of fiction (e.g. Shakespeare) and passages from the bible to support his arguments. He also often resorts to hearsay with statements such as "some say that..." for support. The book also contains outdated information, for example that female estrus is hidden from males to promote pair bonding, which has since been dis-proven in laboratory tests that indicate that males can detect estrus. (Generally his presentation of conventional model of human sexuality and inequality is outdated. See Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality for more updated information.) The author also has an outdated human-centric view, suggesting that only humans have meta-representation and theory of mind, despite quite a bit of recent evidence to the contrary.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK - FASCINATING, INFORMATIVE, & FUN June 2, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where's the science? August 23, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Interesting and well written from a philosophical point of view, but the title is very misleading. This book is more about something the author calls essentialism than pleasure. He does contend that pleasure is derived from this essentialism, but provides no scientific evidence to support that point. In fact the only science is this book amounts to a few scattered citings of psychological studies that happen buttress his philosophical arguments.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Thought-Provoking June 13, 2010
Are you into cannibalism, incest, and wearing Hitler's sweater? If so, this book is for you! Actually, if not, then this book is even more for you. Bloom asks why it is that things have the power to please or upset us beyond their objective properties. Hitler's sweater is the same as any other sweater--it isn't evil; it never did anything wrong. So, why would it be so creepy to pull it on? Would you rather be kissed by your favorite movie star or his or her identical twin? Most people of course want the movie star... but why? Somehow, the way we think about the person and the kiss is just as important as the way the person looks and the physical act. Bloom explores such examples through domains such as sex, art, family, and food.

"How Pleasure Works" is a great read. The author skillfully draws you in to each topic with examples like Hitler's sweater and then describes relevant research that sheds light on why we like what we like. Unlike many such books, he does not get bogged down in details of experiments. Neither does the author talk down to the reader: He is congenial but not overly jokey. The pages seem to turn themselves.

At the end, the reader comes away with a greater appreciation for how complex our likes and dislikes are. However, many of the best examples (like incest and cannibalism) focus on what we DON'T like. The book's success can perhaps best be summed up by the fact that even when you are being disgusted by such examples, you still get pleasure from reading about them.
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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars neither fish nor fowl July 26, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
'How Pleasure Works' exists somewhere between philosophy and science and doesn't do much for either. Philosophically we can learn more about 'essentialism' from Plato, and scientifically we can learn more about pleasure from many cognitive neuroscientists. I think that this kind of academic blather comes from too sequestered a life, from consorting only with other versions of oneself, from gazing too myopically at one's experimental subjects, and from publish or perish pressures. Very disappointing and a waste of time. This kind of "Oh, wow" New-Ageism is to the subject of pleasure what high fructose corn syrup is to food.

Here is a short list of words missing from the index: reinforcement, addiction, reward, dopamine, drugs.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Condescending and Misleading February 17, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A lot of ivy league professors are writing "cross-over" books for a general, but educated readership. But most of them are able to understand that doing so doesn't mean one has to write as if explaining things to total morons. This book is condescending and lacking any detail, nuance or rigor. It comes across as if he just churned out another book (with no original research, mind you) just to take a crack at some best-seller money. Moreover, the book doesn't even provide an answer for the question in the title or questions he raises in the text. So he is constantly posing interesting questions (e.g., Where, from his much-beloved biological point of view, do sexual fetishes come from? How does race play factor into "why we like what we like"?) Then he just forgets he ever posed it and talks about other matters that are more easily explained without considering how cultural/social reasons necessarily have to interact with the biological.) I bought this book because I wanted to learn about what new and interesting scholarship was being done in this field by scientists, and I assumed that because he was peddling it on NPR that it would be written for a reasonably intelligent audience. Instead, it was a lot of just-so stories about (mostly bad) experiments his friends and colleagues did, but written in a really cloying and coddling way, as if his readership cannot possibly hope to understand the important scientific "truths" he is handing down to them. The end result was that it was such a waste of time that when I finished it, I didn't donate it like usual. I actually threw it away so no one else would have to waste their time, either.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but confined account of pleasure
This book is about pleasure, but equally it is about essentialism. I would even argue that this book is more about essentialism than pleasure (guess the title would not have been... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Neuron
2.0 out of 5 stars boring......
Sorry, just can't get into it. I will definitely try again later as I have heard good things about this book.
Published 6 months ago by Donna Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars How Pleasure Works. . . .
I saw Professor Bloom speak at a "One Day University" and out of the 5 speakers my husband and I saw, he was the best. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Christine Casper
3.0 out of 5 stars How pleasure works
This was highly recommended in an article, so I bought it, but I found it to be simply rehashing the same platitudes and genial research as other books and articles. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Geonomeak
5.0 out of 5 stars I know what I like; but why? Loved this book.
How Pleasure Works, by Paul Bloom, reviewed by Dan Nicholas Dec. 11, 2013

I like dangerous books that make you think. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Dan E. Nicholas
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating content that makes you look at your own "pleasures"
This is a really interesting book packed with rich content well documented with 24 pages of references. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Cmac
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely Amazing
Great book! I highly recommend this book to everyone wishing to understand how the mind works. It is well written, informative, and even humorous on occasion. Read more
Published on September 12, 2012 by Jason Powers
1.0 out of 5 stars An unpleasant book about pleasure!
Publisher's Weekly said, "Bloom (Descartes' Baby), a psychology professor at Yale, explores pleasure from evolutionary and social perspectives, distancing himself from the... Read more
Published on August 20, 2012 by Angie Boyter
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading this book was a pleasure!
The first time I learned about Dr. Bloom was in early 2009, when I was preparing to leave Afghanistan to obtain a Master's degree in clinical and counseling psychology in the U.S. Read more
Published on April 22, 2012 by Arshia
2.0 out of 5 stars Is the "new science" philosophy?
I had the exact same experience reading this book as a few of the other reviews. I got it from the library, based on a post from NPR. I kept asking myself, "Where's the physiology? Read more
Published on February 20, 2012 by Linda Ross, PhD
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