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How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like Hardcover – June 14, 2010

3.4 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bloom (Descartes' Baby), a psychology professor at Yale, explores pleasure from evolutionary and social perspectives, distancing himself from the subject's common association with the senses. By examining studies and anecdotes of pleasure-inducing activities like eating, art, sex, and shopping, Bloom posits that pleasure takes us closer to the essence of a thing, be it animal, vegetable, or mineral. He argues that humans seem to be hard-wired to give, as well as receive, pleasure. A study using mislabeled, cheap bottles of wine, wherein "Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only twelve said this of the cheap label," demonstrates the complicated sociological components behind what we find pleasurable. Bloom even briefly examines positive reactions to very hot food and other "controlled doses of pain." And a study where rhesus monkeys chose pictures of female hindquarters and high-status monkeys over fruit juice allows the author to surmise that "Two major vices-pornography and celebrity worship-are not exclusively human."
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Review

“[A] book that is different from the slew already out there on the general subject of happiness. No advice here about how to become happier by organizing your closest; Bloom is after something deeper than the mere stuff of feeling good.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“Engaging, evocative… Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, is a supple, clear writer, and his parade of counter-intuitive claims about pleasure is beguiling.” (Michael Washburn - NPR)

“Is there anyone who could resist a book about sex, food, art, and fun? Didn’t think so. This book is about all those things, but what turns it from a guilty pleasure into a guiltless one is its deep understanding of philosophy, developmental psychology, and evolutionary theory… How Pleasure Works should stoke your neurons into a frenzy and leave you wanting more.” (Mary Carmichael - Newsweek.com)

“Bloom covers food, sex and art at length and touches on much more in this accessible compendium of experiments, quotes, philosophical nuggets and anecdotes. Sigmund Freud, Mr. Pleasure Principle himself, would have approved.” (Katy Steinmetz - Time)

“Scholarly yet spy…. Bloom salts the book with all manner of pungent, apposite points…. A heartening, well-developed argument.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A gracefully written book and a lot of fun.” (Peter D. Kramer - Slate)

“Drawing on his own research as well as studies in neuroscience, behavioral economics, and philosophy, [Bloom] makes a powerful argument for essentialism at the crux of human pleasure.” (Maywa Montenegro - Seed Magazine)

“In this eloquent and provocative book, Paul Bloom takes us inside the paradoxes of pleasure, exploring everything from cannibalism to Picasso to IKEA furniture. The quirks of delight, it turns out, are a delightful way to learn about the human mind.” (Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide)

“This book is not just a pleasure, but a revelation, by one of psychology’s deepest thinkers and best writers. Lucid and fascinating, you’ll want to read it slowly and savor the experience.” (Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness)

How Pleasure Works has one of the best discussions I’ve read of why art is pleasurable, why it matters to us, and why it moves us so.” (Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession)

“This book is a pearl, a work of great beauty and value, built up around a simple truth: that we are essentialists, tuned in to unseen order.” (Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (June 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393066320
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393066326
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
With "new science" in the title, I was expecting more from this book. Although a few research studies are mentioned here and there this is more of a philosophical discussion resolving around an essentialist theory of pleasure than something based on scientific research. Whole sections consist of speculative discussions with no evidence to back them up. The author frequently cites works of fiction (e.g. Shakespeare) and passages from the bible to support his arguments. He also often resorts to hearsay with statements such as "some say that..." for support. The book also contains outdated information, for example that female estrus is hidden from males to promote pair bonding, which has since been dis-proven in laboratory tests that indicate that males can detect estrus. (Generally his presentation of conventional model of human sexuality and inequality is outdated. See Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality for more updated information.) The author also has an outdated human-centric view, suggesting that only humans have meta-representation and theory of mind, despite quite a bit of recent evidence to the contrary.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How Pleasure Works is a great book - it's entertaining and informative, and also surprising - as well as surprisingly funny. It examines different sources of pleasure - from food, to sex, to art, different forms of entertainment, and so on - and discusses recent findings in cognitive science (including a few of the author's own) that tell us about the surprisingly complex and sometimes deeply puzzling nature of human pleasure. The author argues that pleasure is not primarily a response to certain perceptual & sensory experiences, but instead has a significant cognitive component - what we think about something (whether or not we're correct) has a huge impact on how much pleasure we derive from it. The book contains many examples, which range from mildly surprising, to deeply puzzling, to just plain weird; some are very funny. The author has a fresh, engaging and easy style of writing, unlike what one finds in many science books for the lay public - this is enormously fun to read. Opening it up to any random page you'll almost certainly find yourself pulled in and getting caught up in the discussion - this book is hard to put down!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Interesting and well written from a philosophical point of view, but the title is very misleading. This book is more about something the author calls essentialism than pleasure. He does contend that pleasure is derived from this essentialism, but provides no scientific evidence to support that point. In fact the only science is this book amounts to a few scattered citings of psychological studies that happen buttress his philosophical arguments.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
How Pleasure Works, by Paul Bloom, reviewed by Dan Nicholas Dec. 11, 2013

I like dangerous books that make you think. Paul Bloom from Yale in his How Pleasure Works has written a such a book. It's a frightful thought to pause, as he suggests, and take in just why one likes what one likes; loves what one loves.

I was intrigued to track here the science of why I am passionate about certain topics or people or ideas and bored with others. Yes, it was fun pondering here why it is that certain thoughts and acts stir me; and why and when the reverse emotions are stirred in me, to; such as disgust or fear or dread. I enjoyed his questions on why it is we love or hate the idea of God. And just what is this thing we call awe?

It's three in the morning and this professor has got me up reading about science. Takes a good writer and strong storyteller to involve the reader like this. His work reads like you're taking in a novel when what you are really doing is reading about basic science on the mind and the human condition of how we think and feel and why.

The good developmental psychologist Dr. Bloom might be an ivory tower professor in some eyes; but for me in this work he was more an observant student of two year olds. I liked how he seemed unashamed as an academic to be listed as one more philosopher awed by mystery in the universe. I liked this book. A science page turner is rare; maybe he's giving Mary Roach a run for her spot as top science writer?

The hedonist in me also loved his focus on pleasure. And I loved how my bone doctor specialist last week paused when I went to see him about my ailing elbow and I watched him grab this paperback from my lap for a quick jacket read--How Pleasure Works--before dealing with my pains.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A fairly good book exploring, in a mostly critical and adaptionist view, why we find pleasure in the things we do. The earliest chapters, exploring baseline concepts such as food and sex, tended to be the most grounded with the most research backing. Later chapters tended to veer too much toward speculation and philosophy.

The author also tends to be a bit hit and miss in narrative abilities. At times he's engaging and the style is not unlike "Freakonomics". However, where that book typically took time to really dig apart some of the cited examplesor experiments, this book tends to just reference studies or examples in a passing fashion.

Another minor issue I have with the book is that the author tends to try and explain things as having a REASON or a PURPOSE too much. For example, in a chapter about art, he seemed to get hung up on their needing to be an evolutionary reason for this element of humanity. However the author has either forgotten or doesn't know that there are many examples of evolution not doing away with adaptions that are no longer relevant but are not overtly harmful. For example, male nipples (a remnant of the fact we are all conceived female), 3rd molars (largely redundant based on how heavily our food is processed now and how little chewing we do, relatively speaking), the appendix (again, largely irrelevant due to not having to eat raw vegetatian all the time), or a set of muscles in the shoulders that are largely useless now that we don't spend our days hanging in trees.
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