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The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0670022588
ISBN-10: 0670022586
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

By merging an evolutionary perspective with cutting-edge research in neuroscience, Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, addresses provocative questions about the relationship between pleasure and addiction while exploring many of the broader implications of the nexus of the two. "Understanding the biological basis of pleasure leads us to fundamentally rethink the moral and legal aspects of addiction to drugs, food, sex, and gambling and the industries that manipulate these pleasures." Linden (The Accidental Mind) is admirable at explaining complex scientific concepts for the nonspecialist. He focuses most of his attention on the role played by the small portion of our gray matter known as the medial forebrain pleasure circuit and demonstrates how both behavior and chemistry can activate its neurons. He also discusses the somewhat counterintuitive conclusion that addiction is often associated with decreased pleasure. Linden's conversational style, his abundant use of anecdotes, and his successful coupling of wit with insight makes the book a joy to read. Even the footnotes are sprinkled with hidden gems. (Apr.)
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"A hugely entertaining look at why we enjoy the things we enjoy. ... There's hardcore biology here, but it's tempered with personal anecdotes, penetrating observations and quotes from the likes of comedian Mitch Hedberg and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. If you're science-phobic, don't worry: Linden is incredibly smart, but comes across as the funny, patient professor you wish you'd had in college."
-"National Public Radio", Michael Schaub

"This cheerful summary of the brain's reward system is a profound experience... "Pleasure" is a superb book. My brain has been changed by reading it."
-"The Guardian" (UK), Leo Benedictus --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1 edition (April 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022588
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #697,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Didaskalex VINE VOICE on June 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"There are variants in genes that turn down the function of dopamine signaling within the pleasure circuit. For people who carry these gene variants, their muted dopamine systems lead to blunted pleasure circuits, which in turn affects their pleasure-seeking activities. ... Any one of us could be an addict at any time. Addiction is not fundamentally a moral failing -- it's not a disease of weak-willed losers." -- David Linden

Many of us humans are aware of our personal and ambiguous relationship to pleasure, which we spend a great amount of time and re­sources pursuing. As we deal with other influencing forces, however, we also tend to regulate pleasure. A key motivator of our lives, pleasure is central to learning, since we find food, water, and sex motivating to survive and pass our genetic DNA onto future generations. Certain varieties of pleasure sensations are regarded as specially guarded areas. Many of our most important rituals involving prayer, music, dance, and meditation create types of transcendent pleasure that has become deeply intrenched in human social and cultural practice. The skillful neuroscientist and articulate author sums it up, "While most people are able to achieve a certain degree of pleasure with only moderate indulgence, those with blunted dopamine systems are driven to overdo it. In order to get to that same set point of pleasure that others would get to easily -- maybe with two drinks at the bar and a laugh with friends -- you need six drinks at the bar to get the same thing."

Our religions, our educational and legal systems, are all deeply concerned with controlling pleasure, a mind over body notion.
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Format: Hardcover
David Linden has done it again. If you liked his first book, The Accidental Mind, about evolution and the brain, you'll love The Compass of Pleasure. The latter is a neurological tour of reward pathways in the brain, explaining some aspects of obesity, sex, runner's highs, drug addiction, and gambling, among other things. The author has the knack for explaining complicated things while being witty instead of condescending. It's an easy read for such complex material -- you can finish it in a couple of nights, but don't try reading it when you're sleepy! It may be well-explained, but it doesn't feel dumbed down and it's still challenging. If you want to understand your alcoholic aunt, your slutty sister, your fat father, your exercise-bulemic brother, your ungenerous uncle or your gambling grandpa, here's what their wiring is doing. Well conceived, well written, and well past time you got your copy.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Compass of Pleasure, by David Linden

From an evolutionarily psychological perspective, it's easy to see the raw importance of pleasure driving human behavior. There's a lot in this book to flesh out and support that idea. Relying largely on recent studies which use a crude but non-intrusive scanning device, or on animal studies with probes, Linden explains how the brain handles pleasure. Here's a small example: "... A different group of neurons within the arculate nucleus, those that use the neurotransmitter called NPY, are unaffected by the vagus nerve-nucleus tractus solatarius pathway, but are inhibited by circulating leptin. Like the POMC-containing neurons, these NPY cells also send axons to both the paraventricular nucleus and the lateral hypothalamus. But their actions are opposite to those of the POMC neurons: The NPY cells inhibit the paraventricular nucleus and excite the lateral hypothalamus..."

Usually the gist is summarized at the end, thank goodness, and even if you don't become a molecular biologist, you come away with a lot. The brain, we learn is a Rube Goldberg contraption involving triggers, signals, thresholds, circuits, feedback loops, receptors, transmitters, reuptake valves, modulators and back up systems.

Linden is as interested in addiction as he is in pleasure. He makes an argument that gambling, drugs, sex, and food can take on the biological characteristics of addiction: development of tolerance, leading to decreased pleasure and increased craving. "Pleasure," he says, changes to "wanting." This is particularly well covered in regards to drugs and food.

Here's a tidbit: dopamine-goosing pleasure drugs (heroin, cocaine) are highly addictive, especially when injected or smoked because the hit is big and fast.
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Neurophysiology is a fascinating topic. We know very little about how the brain really does work, the field is evolving rapidly, and reveals huge amounts of interesting data about how we think. This book is particularly focused on learned responses revolving around pleasure circuits: addiction responses to drugs, eating, gambling, and many other things, as well as how these responses relate to our ability to learn. It reviews many interesting experiments about brain functioning, starting with some fairly disturbing experiments in the 50s (and before) and up through quite modern techniques involving genetic engineering and light pulses. The book will give you a sense of the evolution of neurophysiology and much that we know, as well as a sense of how little we do know.

I found the book quite interesting, especially as it ties together the chemical processes and brain functioning around everything ranging from sexual response to obesity, as well as how scientists think about and experiment on the issues.

Some of the chemical parts might be a bit complex for the novice, but it isn't hard to get the key concepts regardless of one's understanding of the actual chemistry.

Quite fun, and an interesting science book.
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