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Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human 6.3.2012 Edition

68 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374532925
ISBN-10: 9780374532925
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Editorial Reviews


“This book could fuel a score of dinner-party conversations…this is more than some scientific stocking-filler: it uses science to unsettle our most embedded assumptions. It is deeply thought-provoking.” ―Sunday Times (UK)

“Excellent in its entirety, woven of Bering's rare tapestry of scientific rigor and a powerful, articulate social point of view.” ―Brain Pickings

“You must buy [Bering's book] to be both entertained and the life and soul of cocktail parties from now ‘til the end of the world.” ―Jezebel

“Bering's jokes about the things that make us most squeamish invite us to share his joyful curiosity about human sexuality, to see the world through his eyes...As Bering describes it, the complex interplay between biology, psychology, and culture suggests that what makes us most human--empathy--is also what makes us the most complicated beast of all.” ―Bookforum

“While remaining strictly true to the scientific facts of any given issue, Bering keeps readers on their toes with his signature salacious quips and stray, juicy peeks at his personal life.” ―Carl Hays, Booklist

“Anyone familiar with [Bering's] columns knows the goofy, self-deprecatory way he has of digesting lofty concepts. This book . . . is a prime specimen.” ―Newcity Lit

“These entertaining essays offer a cornucopia of ideas that will reward readers with hours of conversational gambits.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Anyone interested in reading about the latest developments in sex research told with a generous dose of self-deprecating humor will enjoy this essay collection.” ―Library Journal

“An accessible, lively, thought-provoking book for anyone curious about what it means to be human.” ―Kirkus

“Bering has a well-researched, erudite response that teaches more about whatever sex-related topic is at hand than quite a few books I've come across. I have yet to come away from reading one of his essays or responses to reader questions and not feel considerably better informed than I was just minutes before. Be sure to also check out his latest book…” ―David DiSalvo, "Six Writers Who Know More About Sex Than You Do (So Read Them)" on

“Jesse Bering is the Hunter S. Thompson of science writing, and he is a delight to read--funny, smart, and madly provocative.” ―Paul Bloom, Professor, Yale University, and author of How Pleasure Works

“Jesse Bering is the intellectual spawn of Helen Fisher and Oliver Sacks, and Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? is brainy, informative, compassionate--and hilariously naughty.” ―Amy Dickinson, New York Times bestselling author and NPR personality

“If David Sedaris were an experimental psychologist, he'd be writing essays very much like these. Bering's unique blend of scientific knowledge, sense of humor, intellectual courage, and pure literary skill is immediately recognizable; no one writes quite the way Bering does. Read this book. You'll learn, laugh, and then learn some more.” ―Christopher Ryan, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Sex at Dawn

“Nothing sacred is spared in Jesse Bering's deft, rivetingly informative, and relentlessly hilarious new book. Bering's addictive curiosity and wry, dexterous humor make this a collection that's as funny as it is impossible to put down.” ―Violet Blue, award-winning author and sex educator

“Bering has an uncanny way with words, an incisive capacity for logical thinking, and a stunning talent for breathing new life and enthusiasm into science.” ―Gordon Gallup

About the Author

Jesse Bering, Ph.D. is a frequent contributor to Scientific American and Slate. His writing has also appeared in New York magazine, The Guardian, and The New Republic, among others, and has been featured by NPR, Playboy Radio, and more. The author of The Belief Instinct, Bering is the former Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at the Queen's University, Belfast, and began his career as a professor at the University of Arkansas. He lives in Ithaca, New York.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 6.3.2012 edition (July 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780374532925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374532925
  • ASIN: 0374532923
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Jesse Bering (born 1975) is an award-winning science writer. His "Bering in Mind" column at Scientific American was named a 2010 Webby Award Honoree. Bering's first book, The Belief Instinct (2011), was included on the American Library Association's Top 25 Books of the Year. This was followed by a collection of his previously published essays--the critically acclaimed Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (2012), and Perv (2013), a New York Times Editor's Choice. All three books have been translated into many different languages. A developmental psychologist by training, Bering is an expert in the field of cognitive science and religion, with over 50 publications in that discipline. He began his career at the University of Arkansas, as an Assistant Professor of Psychology from 2002-2006. He then served as the Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at the Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he was a Reader in the School of History and Anthropology until 2011. Presently, he is an Associate Professor of Science Communication at the University of Otago, New Zealand.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 5, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Why is the Peni$ Shaped Like That? And Other Reflections on Being Human by Jesse Bering

"Why is the Peni$ Shaped Like That?" is the irreverent, thought-provoking and rather sensational book of essays on human sexuality. Dr. Jesse Bering takes us on a journey of surprising and even shocking peculiarities of being human. Using the latest of scientific research in psychology, neuroscience, biology and a naughty sense of humor Bering succeeds in enlightening the public on fascinating issues pertaining to human sexuality. This entertaining 320-page book is broken out into the following eight parts: Part I. Darwinizing What Dangles, Part II. Bountiful Bodies, Part III. Minds in the Gutter, Part IV. Strange Bedfellows, Part V. Ladie's Night, Part VI. The Gayer Science: There's Something Queer Here, Part VII. For the Bible Tells Me So and Part VIII. Into the Deep: Existential Lab Work.

1. A fun and informative book for the masses.
2. The fascinating topic of human sexuality in the irreverent hands of Jesse Bering.
3. A frank conversational tone. Bering holds nothing back to the point of being uncomfortable but when it is all said and done you are thankful that he did.
4. This book is anything but boring. The pages turn themselves. The ability of Bering to immerse science, anecdotes, sound logic, personal experiences, pop culture and humor into an engaging narrative is what makes this work.
5. This book will at times surprise, inform, disgust and educate you. In short, it's thought provoking.
6. Understanding the male reproductive anatomy. The activation hypothesis and yes an evolutionary-based explanation for the title of the book.
7. Interesting facts and findings throughout the book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Tim K on July 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
I've been a fan of Bering's since his first book, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life. Since then, I've been following his articles in Slate, Scientific American, etc. When I found out he had been writing a new book, I was very excited about it. Now having read the newest from Bering, I can say that it was as much a joy to read as his first.

If you couldn't tell from the title, this book is about humans. And not just any boring book on humans, but about the not-so-much talked about and taboo topics. As Bering makes clear, this is a science book. Good ol' fashioned materialistic science. From there, Bering probes deeply into what makes humans unique and why we are the way that we are.

The one thing I'm disappointed about is that since this is a collection of essays, most are available online. That being said, I am glad Bering collected them into one, easy-to-read book. I even found myself laughing out loud. Now I can have friends over and wow them with amazing facts about the penis, ejaculation, and other things that make us, us. There are so many fascinating facts that, honestly, I've been using lately when there's a lull in conversation.

Bering's writing style is effortless, witty, and a joy to read. If you're looking for an entertaining tour of the human body and mind, this is the book for you!
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Anderson on June 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
Ostensibly, this book is about evolutionary biology and psychology. They're fascinating topics, and can lend a lot of light on what it means to be human.

Unfortunately, though, this book is primarily about the author. Now, I think some personal asides, and anecdotes, and opinions can real help make a book a lot less dry and a lot more readable. This guy, though, goes way overboard.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the author seems to be a bit of an exhibitionist. He just so happens to be gay and an atheist, and seems to want to make sure you know that on pretty much every page.

He's also rather surprisingly patronizing - if you don't happen to be gay and atheist like him, that is. Just to give you an idea, here are a couple of chapter titles:

- Good Christians (But Only on Sundays)
- God's Little Rabbits: Believers Out-produce Nonbelievers by a Landslide
- The Bitch Evolved: Why Are Girls So Cruel to Each Other

There's lots more within the body of the book, but I really just couldn't be bothered to record it all.

Now, personally, I don't mind that kind of style at all. I'm just not so sure it applies to this particular topic so well.

Evolutionary biology and psychology (EBP) are rather controversial topics. It's not that their opponents are all fundamentalist dimwits (like Bering would probably like to believe), but rather that some very serious scientists have some major questions about them (in particular, seeing them as lending themselves to lots of theorizing and very little evidence).

In this regard, this book reminds me of a couple of others: Consumed, by Geoffrey Miller, and The Consuming Instinct, by Gad Saad.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. Hyman VINE VOICE on July 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
Having read a recent article by the author in Scientific American, I thought i would venture into the book, only in part because of the provocative title. The book is organized as a collection of essays. As such, it is quite easy to read, since you can pick up a section and return at any time desired. Each chapter takes on a different topic, such as that relating to the books title -- why is the human penis shaped the way it is, which is quite different from that of other animals, say that of the cat with its backward pointing barbs? It is an interesting question, and the author approaches it from the point of evolutionary conjecture. As such, there are never firm answers to any of the questions in the book -- the answers tend to be theories that make sense, backed up by psychological or anatomical studies, but nothing that is every proven. Because, after all, it is very hard for us to watch evolution. Thus, if you are looking for hard science, this probably isn't the book for you. But if you are interested in some fascinating essays on some of the peculiarities of being human -- and particular our sex lives -- and how they may have evolved, this book is quite fun.

The chapters are a bit mixed in strength. For example, i found the chapter about the shape of penis much more interesting than that on laughter, and the chapter on sex while sleep walking much more interesting than that on relgious reminders, but overall, it was a fun and fast read, and one that has lead to many interesting conversations with others.

And as for the answer to the books title -- why, you'll have to read it to find out, but it is a rather interesting answer.
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