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The Humble Little Condom: A History Paperback – September 30, 2007

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The Humble Little Condom: A History + Condom Nation: The U.S. Government's Sex Education Campaign from World War I to the Internet
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 371 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (September 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591025567
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591025566
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #801,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This book has it all—sex, money, infidelity, war, poetry, the famous and the infamous, politics, hypocrisy. What a read! … Although there are plenty of laughs, this is a serious history, and one that was hard to put down. I had no idea the condom had such a long and complex story."
—Frederick Gottlieb, MD, MPH, C. Everett Koop Public Health Physician Award recipient

"Illuminating... This fascinating book is as much a history of attitudes and morality as it is about the humble condom. Thoroughly researched yet never dry..." —Monsters and

"A wonderful, compact tome, chock-full of posters, packages, and poems on the centuries-old device used by millions… Everything you ever wanted to know about the condom, and quite a few things you probably haven't thought of. Funny, ribald, uninhibited, and well researched. I recommend it."
—Phil Harvey, president, DKT International, author of The Government vs. Erotica

About the Author

Aine Collier, EdD, is an assistant professor of English at the University of Maryland University College. She holds degrees in European history, international business, and English education. She has been a historian for the Hughes Flying Boat Museum and a 1932 Olympics archival project, as well as an oral historian for a series of interviews with famous figures from the peace movements of the 1930s and 1960s.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 9 customer reviews
It was well written, descriptive, and informative.
Amazon Customer
It's also amazing that those early civilizations were able to develop relatively reliable forms of birth control.
James R. Holland
Many very interesting facts presented in an easily readable form.
R. Beahm

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By V. Brock on June 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating history of this product, but it's a dead end: the author lists no references. Especially in the ancient history section of the book, where the author is honest that her opinion that condoms were used is controversial among historians, it would be nice to have more information to judge the reliability of her claims. And when she refers to something as a "legend" (like the Roman muscle condom), where did that information come from?

While a significant part of the book is devoted to Europe, the preponderance of the details in the book are about the U.S. and, to some extent, Britain. For example, the author mentions that "advanced manufacturing methods" were "developed in Germany" (p.156), but neglects to include that these techniques were developed by Julius Fromm, one of the major names in condom history. Japan and Russia get a few paragraphs, and some other countries are mentioned briefly. But I was disappointed that the introduction of condoms to the developing world was largely glossed over as "U.S. AID promoted condoms in the developing world", full stop.

I was also disappointed in her coverage of testing methods. She talks about early testing methods in some detail, but makes no mention of the electrolytic testing (every condom) and burst testing (a percentage of each batch) now required by the U.S. FDA. And while she mentions quality requirements in the U.S. and Britain, international quality standards for condoms (such as ISO 4074) didn't make it into the book. References are again a problem here; on p.311 she says the FDA found that 20% of U.S. condoms did not meet quality requirements in the "mid-nineties".
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
"It is the story of the human spirit, with all its flaws and foibles." A book on this subject must surely be about something lofty, like aviation or inoculations. But the words are from Aine Collier's introduction to her book, _The Humble Little Condom: A History_ (Prometheus Books). For a long while, even into the twentieth century, merely mentioning the condom in print could get you into trouble, so just looking into the pages of this funny and idiosyncratic history should be a reminder that we are living in an unprecedented time of open communication on sexuality, though, darn it, there are reminders in the last chapters of just how backwards we still are in some ways. There seems to be through the centuries the same sort of pattern, where cultures discover that sheathing the male member has benefits in reducing disease or pregnancies, but then the established church or government rail against such sheaths because they don't think the delights of sex should be unlinked from the punishment of the consequences. Collier is an academic, but this is a fizzy, fact-filled text with lots of sidebars. It is as if Collier is saying that using a condom ought to be fun, so reading even a history that goes back twelve thousand years ought to be fun, too.

The ancient Egyptians used papyrus, the Chinese used oiled silk or paper, and also, like the ancient Greeks and Romans, used animal gut, still available today. The Renaissance guilds of the sausage makers didn't just make sausages. They cleaned and treated animal intestines and sold them to condom-makers. Glovers, those who made gloves (Shakespeare's father was one), were allied to the sausage makers, and it isn't just coincidence that "glove" was used as a synonym for the condom.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Walt Conrad on November 4, 2007
Format: Paperback
That's how good this book is. Collier has taken a Traditionally a taboo subject and written A page turner. Nonfiction that is a joy to read is a rare commodity . Collier has hit paydirt with this funnyand enlightening facet of unreported human history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Squeeky Wheel on February 11, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ms Collier presents apparently everything that could be dredged from libraries on the subject, but, as another reviewer points out, without providing her references. Note cards that she could not work into her narrative she presents in shadowed boxes as sidebars. While these are often interesting in their own right or as trivia, they tend to interrupt her narrative, breaking her sometimes tenuous train of thought. While the information is interesting and while it does have a chronological organization, the overall effect is snippety, like a scrapbook condom collection.

I found her prose to be annoying. Few mentions of condoms (sheaths, devices, skins, etc.) escape the adjective "little", often with a leading "humble" to boot. Worse, her malapropisms, while amusing, detract from her message. In chapter 2, for instance, she informs us about the ineffectiveness of medieval law at preventing contraception: "female neighbors, friends, and relatives quietly educated one another, and there were even those who actually made a living from gathering the herbs and collecting the flora necessary to make contraceptive mendicants. Considering the personal daintiness of medieval beggars, I would imagine they would indeed have a contraceptive effect if properly placed. Elsewhere, she informs us ". . . from 1966 to 1970, 38 percent of married couples and sexually active singles used the pill, versus 31 percent using the condom--but perhaps somewhat surprisingly, single women still preferred that men take the initiative. This jives with with the statistical information . . . " Jives? Neither she nor her editor has heard of "jibe?"

I learn with some horror that Ms Collier is is an assistant professor of English at the University of Maryland.
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