31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2004
Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy's 'Kinsey: Sex: The Measure of All Things' (2000) is a balanced, insightful, and fairly thorough biography of the controversial Indiana biologist who pioneered the study of human sexuality in the United States during the Forties and Fifties.
Those distressed with the continuing tragic state of social discourse concerning sexuality in America will find Gathorne-Hardy's book courageous, invigorating, and wonderfully plain spoken on a variety of topics most Americans still can't discuss, publicly or privately, without demonstrating shame, rage, or the kind of psychological hysteria and displacement that created the 'satanic ritual abuse' scare--which ruined thousands of lives on both sides of the Atlantic--during the Eighties and Nineties.
If human sexuality is "the measure of all things," then it is also inherently a subject of enormous power for most and extreme sensitivity for many, and is likely to remain so throughout much of America for the foreseeable future. Despite the ubiquity of sexual content in the entertainment world and on the internet today, a reactionary backlash has certainly been asserting itself since the Sexual Revolution of the Sixties, most insidiously via the "political correctness" of the hypocritical elite media, governmental social welfare institutions, and college campus policy boards.
Thus, while many may initially find the reformist scientist a hero, the eccentricities and excesses of his professional and personal behavior will undoubtedly make many initially open minded readers wince in discomfort as the Kinsey story progresses. His theories in support of adult/child sexual interaction, for instance, are, tellingly, only marginally explored by Gathorne-Hardy, and Kinsey's obsessive search for personal sexual satisfaction, which led him to what many will interpret as self-mutilating activities, may be seen as signs of pathology by even the sophisticated general reader.
Alfred Kinsey was a driven man in every major aspect of his existence, and moderation, balance, and other disciplines of self control were not qualities he advocated for the public or usually practiced himself where sexual activity was concerned. Had Kinsey been more intrinsically conservative in his private behavior, it is likely that many more people today would feel at ease with his work and be able to embrace it wholeheartedly. But Kinsey's solitary sexual habits are unlikely to gain him a broad sympathetic audience in either a personal or professional capacity.
The simple truth, which Kinsey was well aware of, is that full public disclosure of personal sexual practices, even those that are the most common, will probably never sit well psychologically with most members of Western societies. Kinsey had one of the highest public profiles of his era, and must have realized that his own sexual history would eventually become public knowledge and inevitably discredit him in the court of public opinion, which may partially explain the paranoia of his last years.
As Gathorne-Hardy emphasizes repeatedly, Kinsey's work--which amounted to a personal crusade--was largely motivated by his own puritanical religious upbringing and the sexual frustration that resulted from it. His subsequent sexual interaction with some of the private citizens whose histories he documented, as well as with his own professional staff, underscore the common sense concern that the researcher's occasionally intimate approach potentially contaminated his data and compromised his ability to remain object. However, Kinsey's findings have held up statistically over the ensuing decades and compared favorably with subsequent research.
'Kinsey: Sex: The Measure of All Things' offers a remarkable reading experience, especially as Kinsey and most of his professional colleagues--and their spouses--regularly engage in all varieties of hetero-and homosexual acts with one another in the name of education, experience, and sheer unadorned sensual pleasure.
Handsome, perennially youthful assistant Wardell Pomeroy, who considered himself predominantly heterosexual, stands out as a kind of boundary-jumping erotic hero, doing "a certain eye and swagger thing" under Kinsey's auspices which enabled him to "pick up anyone," and who was, with equally married coworker Clyde Martin, a consistent sexual partner of Kinsey's for almost a decade.
Kinsey's long physical relationship with subordinate Clyde Martin is one of the book's weaknesses, since almost all dynamics, details, and specific facts are strangely absent; nothing of Martin's perspective on the relationship is conveyed except his apparently contented sexual acquiescence to his employer and friend.
Gathorne-Hardy also carefully builds up events leading to Kinsey's physical and professional relationship with onetime romantic partners Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler, but the resulting events are unexceptional, and, by that point in Kinsey's life, seem to have been strictly routine. Gathorne-Hardy's presentation of both these affairs suggests, rightly or wrongly, that there is something more to be told in both cases than the author has revealed.
Since the period in which Kinsey was most active professionally is generally thought of as aggressively repressive and conservative, readers may be surprised at the apparent ease with which Kinsey seems to have gathered the thousands of personal sexual histories he used as the raw data for his books, especially since these were often obtained from "100% groups" in which the individual's participation was known to all or most other group members. Though Kinsey repeatedly faced heated criticism from various religious institutions and competitors, in many ways the late Forties - early Fifties world of 'Kinsey: Sex: The Measure of All Things' seems like a more intelligent and enlightened place than America does today.
Even in his mundane habits, Alfred Kinsey was an eccentric man, a quality his British biographer seems to share on occasion. Gathorne-Hardy's passage on the "appalling" and "ferocious" "American climate," in which he practically dismisses the entire North American continent as uninhabitable on the basis of its weather, makes him appear incredibly naïve, as does his footnote on "American raisins," which he describes as "soft, fruity, luscious lumps, as big as plums" rather than "hard little bullets," a description that will be news to most readers in the United States.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
In this scholarly, well-documented biography of nearly 500 pages, Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy tells you probably all you ever wanted to know about Alfred Kinsey; and he does it in a most reader-friendly fashion. From Kinsey's early life, growing up in the confines of a narrow Methodist family, to his marriage and tenure at Indiana University, to his studies of the gall wasp and his studies of the sexual behavior of males and females that changed forever the way we look at sex-- it's all here. Since Gathorne-Hardy has written the most recent biography of Kinsey (1999) he had the benefit of the research of previous biographers. He thus attempts to set the record straight concerning the 1997 Kinsey biography by James H. Jones, ALFRED KINSEY - A PUBLIC/PRIVATE LIFE. He maintains -- and goes to considerable lengths to prove it-- that Jones ceased to be an "objective researcher" but rather attacked Kinsey's private sexual behavior. He, in Gathorne-Hardy's words, "belongs to what one might call the Kenneth Starr school of biography." Enough said.
Kinsey, an extremely complicated individual, was an atheist (he rebelled vigorously against the strict religion of his father), a brilliant professor and scientist, mesmerizing lecturer, intolerant of what he considered shoddy work of other scientists, a loving husband and father, a "benevolent despot", a bisexual, a compassionate and humane person. (For years he corresponded with both prisoners and their families and often gave and/or lent them money.)
Gathorne-Hardy maintains-- and offers considerable proof-- that while some of Kinsey's conclusions may have been erroneous, that no one since him has done the client interview, the heart of Kinsey's research, better than he and his staff did. For instance, he used a face-to-face interview with an elaborately coded chart he devised and did not ask the first question about sex until 20 minutes into the history. Interviewers never said, "have you ever" but rather "when did you first?" He abhorred random sampling and attempted whenever possible to take the histories of 100% of the members of a group so as to decrease the chances of error. Just as he went everywhere looking for new varieties of gall wasps, he and his group interviewed everyone they could: prostitutes, prisoners, castrates, the Yale Divinity School, amputees, rapists, lobotomy patients, professors, colleagues, students.
Although Mr. Kinsey was denounced by many church leaders including Billy Graham-- after all Kinsey did most of his sex research in the 1940's-- he was revered and praised by many, and was a life line to many persons troubled about their sexuality. He received thousands of letters throughout his career from people hungry for advice and answers and attempted to respond to them all himself. He was incensed and saddened by most of the prisoners he interiewed serving sentences for "sex" crimes, since he believed that they should never have been in prison in the first place. After all, they were just doing what many other people were doing, or as he put it, everyone's sin is no one's sin. His statistics on the incidences of homosexuality in the general population, though often challenged, have never been successfully refuted even though his numbers may have been slightly exaggerated.
Finally, while for the most part, Gathorne-Hardy tells the reader nothing without documentation, occasionally he makes a statement he cannot prove. For example, on page 32, he writes that Kinsey had difficulty expressing intimate personal feelings in public, but that "as often with people who have difficulty here, Kinsey loved small children nd was extremely good with them." I'm not convinced that is an accurate statement and Mr. Gathorne-Hardy makes no attempt to offer up proof. Since this book was first published in England, the author offers explanations and illuminations to his British reader about some of the "Americanisms" here. He, for example, explains the semester system in American universities, defines our corn crop as "maize," tells the reader what "tea room" means and comments often on the "ghastly" weather, meaning of course our 100 degree-in-the-shade summers. They would be a far cry indeed from England's dark, damp Decembers.
You may love Kinsey or you may hate him; but when you finish this biography, you'll feel that you've got at least a glimpse as to what the man was all about and what he accomplished-- no small feat for any biographer.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2005
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is so professionally researched, well documented and written with flowing, easy to follow prose, that it almost over-shadows the subject matter which is, of course, the fascinating life and work of Alfred C. Kinsey, and culminating with his most absorbing research work of all: the sexual habits of primarily, the American public.
But don't worry, the study of sex prevails as the intriguing winner of our primary attention for it is spelled out clearly, sometimes more than one is ready for but can't turn away from and do not honestly want to. And a word of warning to the sexually squeamish- this IS sex, all about sex and sexual habits, many of which, one might not have ever thought of, but necessary for an exacting, broad-spectrum all inclusive study of the human animal.
J. Gathorne-Hardy is British and that shows up in his grammar, so don't think the book is full of typos, that's the way they spell on the other side of the Pond and it lends some flavor to the American subject matter. As can be seen in his detailed research, he is a well qualified researcher, and this work is now considered by many as the de facto authority on all things Kinsey. And fortunately so because there are a tremendous amount of books about Kinsey in print, but rest assured and good as many may be, none can hold a candle to this work.
Kinsey's research was as clinically studied as any highly disciplined research should be, but it is no secret that Kinsey and his fellow researchers did a tremendous amount of, ahem, shall we say, "hands-on", direct involvement work which raised scholarly eyebrows, but as Gathorne-Hardy points out, it was done with the most scientific detachment possible. Yes, well, it certainly made for some scandalous reactions for which Kinsey was acutely trying to avoid, but had an uncanny ability to dismiss and side-step.
For those who have been interested in Kinsey's life and work, but were put-off by the voluminous original works, will certainly appreciate this study, because it not only summarizes Kinsey's work in great detail, it also edits down the laborious writing style of Kinsey, without loosing any important details and most importantly, it includes Kinsey's personal life from early childhood and on to his later research work- something that is missing and/or not accurately portrayed in too many other studies. It also covers many of the people who worked with Kinsey and who graciously lent their personal observations to the author for much of the critical data found here-in.
This book is truly, an outstanding accomplishment and honors the deeply important work of Kinsey and his research team, notorious as many saw it, but whose dogged dedication to the subject of sex studies opened-up a more mature approach for the average citizen's awareness of what most now conclude, is step "A" in knowing oneself and the biological world we live in. I highly commend Jonathon Gathorne-Hardy for this monument to that awareness.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2006
As a Bloomington resident and a long-time admirer of Kinsey's work, I decided it was time to learn more about the man beyond what the Liam Neeson film taught me. What I found in Gathorne-Hardy's bio was a solid portrait of a man who opened the world's eyes to sexuality. The book is well-researched and interesting, but at times it can get bogged down with a bit too much analysis of Kinsey's motives and correspondence, especially as it pertains to his own sexuality.
Still, the book is an easy read and well sourced, and it certainly provides an informative biography of Kinsey while acknowledging some of the man's flaws.
1 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2005
I just saw the new movie, "Kinsey," this evening and now am especially intrigued to read more about him. If the movie is telling of the book, this will be a good read. Thanks!