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The Anatomy of Disgust Paperback – October 31, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0674031555 ISBN-10: 0674031555

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 31, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674031555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674031555
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.7 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The title of William Ian Miller's book is a play on Robert Burton's 17th-century classic The Anatomy of Melancholy, an examination of human emotion. In his modern Anatomy, Miller narrows the focus to the function of disgust in human life. Disgust, Miller posits, is a kind of protection; just as fear causes us to flee danger or loyalty prompts us to support one another, disgust draws boundaries and insulates the individual from outside incursions--anything from the unhygienic hair in our soup to the frightening explosion of homelessness in our cities. Among his theories is one that democracy depends on the even distribution of disgust across class lines.

Mr. Miller is not afraid to explore the darker side of disgust as well--the fact that we may feel it in conjunction with contempt toward people, objects, or concepts that do not warrant it. Nevertheless, disgust serves an important role in humanity's complex emotional and social makeup, and The Anatomy of Disgust is novel in its approach to uncovering just what that role might be. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Miller (law, Univ. of Michigan) is certainly an expert on the unsavory. He brilliantly marshals sources that span a millennium of Western history, drawing critically on the works of such diverse thinkers as Hume, Hazlitt, and Freud. One of his main and persuasive conclusions is that disgust fills a social function by identifying and sanctioning class behaviors and attitudes. In making this case, however, he reveals his own apparent insecurity about class as conditioned by his acknowledged privileged perspective. Readers may also need to work through his notion that true love?and sexual pleasure?depend on overcoming disgust. Casual readers need not apply; although Miller writes well, his tone is relentlessly professorial. Given his universal theme, that's a mild disappointment. A category-defying book most appealing to psychologists, anthropologists, and philoophers, this is essential only for liberal arts collections.?Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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The book contains what everyone already knows (too well!)
Saul Boulschett
Indeed, most of his observations are instantly recognized by any perceptive reader as being things he or she already knew about the world.
Brian G.
This is a genuinely philosophical treatment in the best sense, drawing on all areas of human wisdom and experience.
Cebes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Saul Boulschett on May 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
One more "I loved it!" review? Yes, and here's goes. Mr. Miller does a marvelous job, writing in laid back but eminently readable prose that is also judiciously scholarly, describing, explaining, or just tossing up speculations about a culturally modified body of reaction that provokes the "Ee~oo,gross!". The subject has been handled before, obviously, judging by all the references he makes to the various studies, some recondite, some classic, including Mary Douglas' and Freud's. The book reads like an intimate seminar, with the author citing immediate examples from his own life, and casually but appropriately pointing out things done by his own children. Miller makes it clear from the get go that his study is necessarily restricted to the study of the phenomenon as shaped and defined by the culture and class to which he belongs: WASP with a roundedly informed grasp of his own tradition and values. In that sense, the book makes no claim to be universal, a disclaimer that stands out as an act of virtue in contrast to much of disgustingly pompous academic sweepers out there. Nonetheless, the author does manage to bowl pretty well, getting a strike here and there in terms of observation concerning the qualities that, for all practical purposes, are universally recognized to be those of the disgusting. I use the term 'universal' as it applies today, what with globalization and all. Yes, coprophagy (eating of feces) is indulged in by some for thrills, but I doubt anyone practices drooling saliva into a cup and then drinking it back up. The author suggests that it may not be too much to credit the invisible structure of human social evolution to the distancing of two points, YUCK and YUM.Read more ›
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 11, 1998
Format: Hardcover
An absolute winner. Miller has unflinchingly analysed the disgusting and found a complex universe of overlapping emotions and instincts. Almost every sentence is worth reading out at dinner parties. The index alone is worth the price. Buy the book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Brian G. on May 27, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The unique genius of Professor Miller's work lies not in his ability to give new information to the reader. Indeed, most of his observations are instantly recognized by any perceptive reader as being things he or she already knew about the world. The genius of The Anatomy of Disgust, as with his other works, is his ability to recognize fundamental truths that most people never think about at all, or would prefer not to, and to organize these truths into a coherent system by which human behavior can be analyze and understood.
I strongly recommend this book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 9, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Readers will enjoy expanded coverage including Dr. Disgust..Paul Rozin,PhD....in Psychology Today, Jan/Feb '98. ..almost too much to stomach
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer on December 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Miller's analysis of one of our most overlooked emotions/insticts is a vital addition to the corpus of contemporary thought and study. Although filed under "Sociology", Miller's work has relevance on the whole of academic studies, tying in with Icelandic Sagas, George Orwell, and ethics, with splashes of personal anecdotes thrown in to spice things up. If anything, some chapters are a little heavy handed, and others too sparse, as if Miller grosses himself out before he does the reader. As such, for those in need of a real study of disgust, there may be better venues -- but for those with a purely academic interest, Miller should more than suffice.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on January 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
The author starts by pointing out that linguistically the word "disgust" in English is linked to the word "taste" ("gustus" in Latin). It describes actions or things which are repulsive, revolting or abhorrent principally because they become polluting by being out of place. Freud's theories are efforts to overcome a deep disgust with sex which is often the cause for anxiety, neurosis and psychosis. Disgust is also a psychic need to avoid reminders of our animal origins and it is accompanied by ideas of some sort of danger like pollution, contamination or defilement. It has the function of protecting our organism from dangerous matter. And disgust is culturally and socially determined.

The author argues that disgust has powerful image-generating capacities and that it plays a part in organising and internalising many of our attitudes toward the moral, social and political domains. He also demonstrates how the conceptualisation of disgust varies by virtue of the sense doing the perceiving: touch, smell, taste or vision. The body's orifices and wastes are not forgotten either: mouth, anus, genitals, nose, ears and skin. Moving away from the visceral, Mr Miller takes up the delicate issue of the relationships of disgust to desire and desire to prohibition. He also discusses the changing styles of disgust and the disgusting through time and then moves to the issue that disgust is a moral sentiment. Finally he concentrates on disgust in the political and social realms where it confronts democracy and the idea of equality.

A fascinating study with plenty of references to famous writers like Orwell, Shakespeare, Sartre or Darwin. There is also an exhaustive bibliography which will help readers find related studies to the concept of disgust.
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