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100 of 115 people found the following review helpful
on 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 The book also contains outdated information, for example that female estrus is hidden from males to promote pair bonding, which has since been dis-proven in laboratory tests that indicate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 (Generally his presentation of conventional model of human sexuality and inequality is outdated.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 The author also has an outdated human-centric view, suggesting that only humans have meta-representation and theory of mind, despite quite a bit of recent evidence to the contrary.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2010
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
on August 23, 2010
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
on 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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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2011
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2012
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. and his course on introduction to psychology at Yale University (available online) was a wonderful course! Since then, I have been interested to read more on his works and this book is one of them. I enjoyed every chapter and the way he developed his ideas about the concept of pleasure based on both empirical findings and philosophical theories. The author has benefited from several schools of thought and science to explain and support his ideas, sharing research findings in an interesting manner. Reading this book was highly entertaining and informative and I absolutely love the way he describes his findings and ideas using a wealth of information in psychology (particularly evolutionary and developmental psychology, with interesting ideas/theories on art, sadism/masochism, sex, and cannibalism) and other fields. Reading "How Pleasure Works..." was a pleasure from the beginning to the end. Highly recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2011
Why do we enjoy what we enjoy? Why does a bottle of Perrier seem to taste so much better than tap water, and why does that $200 bottle of wine seem to blow Two Buck Chuck out of the water? In both of these cases, the nature of the liquids inside the containers is not what makes the difference, but it is our beliefs about their invisible essences that shape our preferences and determine our enjoyment levels. In the author's own words: "What matters most is not the world as it appears to our senses. Rather, the enjoyment that we get from something derives from what we think that thing is." (p. xii)

This theory of pleasure centers upon the concept of essentialism--"the notion that things have an underlying reality or true nature that one cannot observe directly and it is this hidden nature that really matters." (p. 9) As the author explains: "Our essentialism is not just a cold-blooded way of making sense of reality; it underlies our passions, our appetites, our desires." (p. 22) The book provides a fascinating tour of how our essentialist natures explain so much about what makes us buzz in delight...or cringe in disgust. It demystifies such curious oddities as to why we prefer bottled water (which often is just tap water, btw), why our beliefs about the artist and creative process determine how much we enjoy the artwork, why we value originals exponentially more than identical duplicates (would you shell out thousands for an identical knockoff Rolex?), why someone would pay $50,000 for a tape measure used by John F. Kennedy and be repulsed even at the thought of wearing a sweater owned by Hitler, and why we become so attached to our possessions. Essentialism also underlies the pleasure we get from transcending everyday reality via imagination, religion, and scientific inquiry. The book brilliantly lives up to its subtitle and illuminates "the new science of why we like what we like."

Appropriately and emphatically, I found _How Pleasure Works_ to be highly pleasurable. (Confession: I actually liked it so much that I read it twice.) At the end of the book, the author notes that "People are drawn to seek out the deeper essence of things; we are curious, and the payoff for learning more is a click of satisfaction." (p. 218) Infinite clicks of satisfaction is what this book is all about!
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27 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2010
'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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2011
I'll keep this short and simple:

This book really forced me to think about how I put value into the things around me. So I had to ask "does x add value to my life?" "Why do I like x so much?" and so on. It gave me a really good perspective to begin shedding a lot of things that were dragging me down in my life. It really helped me at a time when I needed it.

Will everyone reach the same revelations? Probably not. But it's still a good read, well-written, and gives you a nice change of perspective on things around you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
How Pleasure Works, by Paul Bloom, reviewed by Dan Nicholas Dec. 11, 2013

I like dangerous books that make you think. Paul Bloom from Yale in his How Pleasure Works has written a such a book. It's a frightful thought to pause, as he suggests, and take in just why one likes what one likes; loves what one loves.

I was intrigued to track here the science of why I am passionate about certain topics or people or ideas and bored with others. Yes, it was fun pondering here why it is that certain thoughts and acts stir me; and why and when the reverse emotions are stirred in me, to; such as disgust or fear or dread. I enjoyed his questions on why it is we love or hate the idea of God. And just what is this thing we call awe?

It's three in the morning and this professor has got me up reading about science. Takes a good writer and strong storyteller to involve the reader like this. His work reads like you're taking in a novel when what you are really doing is reading about basic science on the mind and the human condition of how we think and feel and why.

The good developmental psychologist Dr. Bloom might be an ivory tower professor in some eyes; but for me in this work he was more an observant student of two year olds. I liked how he seemed unashamed as an academic to be listed as one more philosopher awed by mystery in the universe. I liked this book. A science page turner is rare; maybe he's giving Mary Roach a run for her spot as top science writer?

The hedonist in me also loved his focus on pleasure. And I loved how my bone doctor specialist last week paused when I went to see him about my ailing elbow and I watched him grab this paperback from my lap for a quick jacket read--How Pleasure Works--before dealing with my pains.

No shock we are pretty much all pleasure hounds. But perhaps only the brave or geekish might be pulled out from the crowd as those likely to take the time and look under the hood at just why we like what we like. And yet I found his mind fascinating as he worked us though questions like the odd connection with pleasure and pain. Why one guy visits and pays $300 hour in Seattle for a Dominatrix for a simple ass whipping and another man pays $3M for Mark McGuire's 7th home run ball. The success of this title shows a lot of us out here want to muse some over all the chicken and egg questions about how and why pleasure moves us.

I loved his observations on what he calls "essentialism"; how we all seem to gravitate to the Real Deal as opposed to the fake; be it in matters of love or art or sex or theology or anything that revs us up rather than leaves us cold.

Ever been in love and wondered why it was the glance of the brunette and not the blond that yanked you from the sidelines at the party? This book's for you. It got me thinking why I was disturbed once to find that the woman I was falling for had undergone a face lift the year before and even copped to photo shopping the face lift pic before hooking me on Match.com. Which face was real? Which women? Did it matter now that I was hooked? Yes, why do these things matter at all. Or not? Well, ask like that and this is worth your time to read. Or if you just love science and a good time. Or just love asking why? You will love this book.
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