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Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire Hardcover – May 8, 2012


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Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire + Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles: Understanding Sex Crime Policy in America + Sexual Deviance: Issues and Controversies
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; First Edition edition (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582437963
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582437965
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #836,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for Sex and Punishment

"Enormously informative and entertaining…There may be no better lens through which to understand how a particular culture sees itself than its laws pertaining to sex [and] Berkowitz has a keen eye for ridiculous laws and a historian's grasp of the meaning behind them… [The book] cries out for a sequel."—Boston Globe

"[An] extraordinary book… 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 galvanize a hundred party conversations, you really must shell out for this book. It's worth every penny."—The Guardian

"Sex and Punishment is 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 colorful 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

"Very interesting, very enlightening, very well written, and very timely; Sex and Punishment performs an important service in narrating the pre-twentieth-century history of sexual mores and regulation to a nonspecialist audience." —Richard Posner, Judge, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and Professor at the University of Chicago Law School

“Berkowitz describes the real stories of medieval cross-dressers, London's rent boys, gay charioteers, and a whole lot of people who were judged for their forbidden sex. The book makes for an excellent, fascinating, and provocative read about carnal desire and what lengths humankind will go to fulfill and control it.” —The Advocate

"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 and The Sinner's Grand Tour

"In Sex and Punishment, 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

"There may be no question more vexing than 'What is normal human behavior?' and no facet of 'normality' more arbitrarily defined—and viciously policed—than sexual morality. Eric Berkowitz has done an excellent job of showing just how far from certain any of us should be that we really know what is 'normal' or 'ethical' when it comes to human sexuality. 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

About the Author

Eric Berkowitz is a writer, lawyer and journalist. He has a degree in print journalism from University of Southern California and has published in The Los Angeles Times and The Los Angeles Weekly, and for the Associated Press. He was an editor of the West Coast’s premier daily legal publication, The Los Angeles Daily Journal. He lives in San Francisco.

More About the Author

Eric Berkowitz has a degree in print journalism from University of Southern California and has published in The Los Angeles Times and The Los Angeles Weekly, and for the Associated Press. He was an editor of the West Coast's premier daily legal publication, The Los Angeles Daily Journal. He lives in San Francisco. For more info, visit: www.sexandpunishmentthebook.com

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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A well researched book that provides many riveting historical examples.
Book Shark
While there are 20 pages of notes and a 20 page Bibliography for those who want them, the book can be easily read without referring to them.
F. Orion Pozo
An absolutely fascinating look into the history of an activity we often times take for granted.
Dave Chiller

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By William Courson VINE VOICE on April 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Eric Berkowitz is a California lawyer and journalist, and has published in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Weekly, and for the Associated Press. He is an editor of the West Coast's premier daily legal publication, the Los Angeles Daily Journal. In "Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire," he has written a fascinating, compelling insight into the mind of the homophobe, the schoolyard bully and the religiously-motivated sociopath.

This is the Dark Side, and while ugly beyond imagining its history and development is something that merits becoming educated to if only to sharpen one's perception of the roots of a purulent reality that lies behind a good many surfaces. This book accomplishes that goal with admirable efficiency!

Did you know that the Holy Inquisition did not punish girl-on-girl action unless the women used an "artificial instrument" in bed? or that that the Italian town of Treviso required that lesbians be "tied naked for a full day to a stake... and then be burned," Or that a Castillian law from the 13th century commanded that men who "sin against nature with each other" were to be "castrated before the whole populace" and then "hung up by the legs until dead, and that their bodies never be taken down?" From ancient Mesopotamia to the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde to the modern era, someone has always been trying to control sexuality and the author's fascinating and thoroughly researched new tome covers it all. The author describes the real stories of medieval cross-dressers, London's rent boys, gay charioteers, and a whole lot of people who were judged for their forbidden sexual identification and desire. The book makes for an excellent, fascinating, and provocative read about carnal desire and what lengths humankind will go to fulfill and control it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Timhrk on May 22, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
"Sex & Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire" by Eric Berkowitz is that truly rare animal: a scholarly work that is fun to read. In fact, a book of legal history has no right to be this entertaining. Perhaps the fact that it is so enjoyable has to do with the subject matter - Sex - and while there are plenty of opportunities to get attention through prurience, Berkowitz thankfully prefers to showcase the inherent absurdity of sex law, which is based on what is ultimately a misbegotten notion, that personal choices in sexuality jeopardizes society as a whole.

Since the dawn of time, or least recorded civilization, society has attempted to restrict sexual practices. Attempt is the key word, because Berkowitz points out that at every turn, the astonishing amount of corruption, hypocrisy and non-compliance accompanying every new sex law - not to mention the tragedies of the victims of this blatant injustice. In addition, he shows how arbitrary sex laws tend to be. What outrages law makers in one society - same sex relations, the age of consent for instance, even incest and bestiality - are treated indifferently by another.

Beginning in the ancient world, the combination of the ancient Hebrews, who Berkowitz credits not just with inventing bans against incest, homosexuality, and sex with menstruating women, but creating the concept of sin: "...the moral strictures of the ancient Jews, held together with the molasses of shame and the terror of God's punishment, have been more influential on Western sexual attitudes than any other collection of ideas."

Of course Hellenic culture of the ancient world eventually became intermingled with Hebrew thought, creating Christianity and Western Civilization.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. DeToro on May 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating survey of 4000 years of attempts both comic and horrifying to "set boundaries on how people take their sexual pleasures" and the "range of controls and punishments to enforce them." The book vividly describes many of the mind-boggling punishments imposed over the years for purported sex crimes, one particularly strange one involving the use of a fish. We learn that the earliest sex laws were an attempt by men to regulate their property rights (for centuries women were the bought and sold property of their fathers and husbands), how homosexuality came to be associated with paganism by religious zealots and how after thousands of years of practical acceptance the first serious attempts to control prostitution took hold. The author's commentary is witty and insightful throughout. It's rare to find a history book that is so much fun to read and that also provides so much perspective on current events and political debates. Highly recommended and I can't wait for the sequel.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Billy on May 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I just finished this book, and while I don't usually do reviews, I decided to weigh in on this one. Mr. Berkowitz, an attorney and journalist, has delivered a very enjoyable and insightful survey of sex and how societies have attempted to regulate it. The level of research is quite outstanding. I wonder where he found some of the nuggets included here. This is the rare book of history that is so readable that it's actually a page-turner. While the book is focused on history through the nineteenth century, it's quite enlightening to realize how universal the tug-of-war between personal sexual practices and the prerogatives of the state have been. This book not only illuminates the past, it shines a light on debates that still are going on today.
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