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Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love Hardcover – April 14, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 220 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* He was an ob-gyn on staff at the medical school at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Emotionally chilly and egotistical, Masters was interested in researching human sexuality. Johnson was a divorced mother of two, looking for a job and a way to earn a degree. She accepted a job offer as research assistant—and sex with Masters as a condition of employment, ostensibly in the name of science. Working together in the 1950s and 1960s, they built on the earlier work of Alfred Kinsey and changed the way Americans looked at sex. Maier goes beyond the image and contributions of this world-famous couple to reveal a driven and calculating man who divorced his faithful wife after 29 years and married Johnson to prevent her from marrying a wealthy benefactor of their clinic. Johnson, though granted equal credit for their work, never got over feelings of inadequacy. She subverted her personality and desires only to have Masters divorce her after 21 years to marry an old sweetheart from his youth. Maier recounts the boldness of their experiments and treatments, controversies surrounding their use of surrogates and study of prostitutes, and their eventual decline as the sexual revolution they sparked raced ahead of them. Based on interviews, Masters’ unpublished memoir, and clinic documents, Maier’s book offers a wonderfully written and totally absorbing look at an amazing couple. --Vanessa Bush

Review

Nelson DeMille, bestselling author of The Gold Coast and The Gate House
“The subject of this book—sex and love—should interest just about everyone. As a bonus, Thomas Maier is a very fine writer, an accomplished biographer, and an astute reporter. If you read only one biography this year, it should be this first-ever look at the secretive lives of Masters and Johnson.”

Gay Talese, author of Thy Neighbor’s Wife and A Writer’s Life
“A well-written and insightful account of Masters and Johnson, who, in a clinical sense, probably knew more about sex and marital love than any other couple in America”

Debby Applegate, Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Biography for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
Masters of Sex is a terrific book about the unlikely couple who touched off the sexual revolution. More than a biography, this is an intimate history of sex in the twentieth-century.”

Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer
“No novelist could come up with something as remarkable as the real life story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the married experts giving advice to America on sex and love. With insightful reporting and writing, Thomas Maier has captured this extraordinary relationship between these male and female sex researchers, a legacy that transformed the way couples live today.”

Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., Past President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, and author of Prime: Adventures and Advice About Sex, Love and the Sensual Years
“It’s hard to imagine any sex researcher or serious student of sexuality who wouldn’t profit from reading this book. The information revealed in Masters of Sex has never surfaced before—and besides being a real contribution to the history of science, it’s a totally captivating read!”

Hugh Hefner, editor in chief, Playboy magazine
“Thomas Maier has written the intimate, engaging biography that Masters and Johnson deserve. Critics often accused the pair of ‘dehumanizing’ sex with their research—of removing its mystery. But as Gini Johnson told Playboy in 1968, mystery is just another name for superstition and myth. The more we know about the physiology of arousal, the better we can enjoy the uniquely human experience of sex for pleasure. Masters and Johnson showed tremendous courage in their research.”

Booklist (starred review)
“A wonderfully written and totally absorbing look at an amazing couple.”

O, The Oprah Magazine
“Perhaps influenced by its steamy subject matter, Masters of Sex…may strike some readers as unusually graphic for a biography, but this unsettling story of sex and science in theory and practice is ultimately more cautionary than titillating.”

Library Journal Online
“Award-winning biographer Maier…delivers the first in-depth look at a complex couple who helped revolutionize the study of human sexual response. Academics and amateur sexperts alike will rejoice.”

Discover magazine
“Maier’s illuminating biography delves into the lives of the couple that started science’s sexual revolution.”

The American Prospect
“Absorbing…Masters of Sex is this spring's true must-read book for those looking to revisit the heady, early days of the sexual revolution.”

The Economist
“If there is a moral to this tale, it is perhaps that the human heart remains as much of a mystery as the sex organs once used to be.”

The Daily Beast
“Sedulously researched and deeply absorbing…Masters of Sex is a richly informed and elegantly organized account of the two people behind the logo that stood for new sexual horizons.”

The Buffalo News
“Writing a readable but serious biography of Masters and Johnson was no easy task. The natural impulse is to drain such passionate clinicality of personality and leave a hollow crusade in its place. Maier’s book resists it constantly. It’s about heroes and flaws and a couple of people whose lives underlay a good half of what we know for sure about what we all think we know so much.”

New York Times Book Review
“A bombshell…eye-opening.”

New York Times
“Told with patience and care...Maier writes well, and with humor.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465003079
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465003075
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (220 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While a graduate student at Ohio State, I was pursuing the path of becoming a sex therapist. As part of that, I attended a workshop sponsored by Masters and Johnson in Chicago. Prior to the workshop in Chicago, I met them at Ohio State. I was profoundly impressed with their insight and therapeutic skills. Within the literature, there have been so many false conjectures regarding their work; it is difficult to sort out reality from false rumor. Because of a series of letters I have in my files, I have concluded that the major events described in this biography are accurate.

The biography is packed with two profound paradoxes that should have a major impact on the development, testing and construction of social science theory - but probably won't - we tend to make the same mistakes in our history rather than learning from our errors.

First, in my academic background I found theory construction be to paradoxical. In theory construction, we learned that devotion to a theory produces a blinder that can prohibit the researcher from identifying more meaningful explanations. In quantitative research, we are taught to begin with a hypothesis that emerges from a theory to avoid "type I errors." Masters was trained in traditional quantitative science and his world view was contaminated by theory (particularly Freudian theory). Because of her lack of formal education, Johnson (probably with greater innate intelligence than Masters) had NO academic world view. Her vision of sexology has no theoretical limitations. She was able to envision sexuality in a manner that was theoretically unparalleled. She, with the assistance of Masters's knowledge of science, was able to institute a major paradigm shift in sexology.
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Format: Hardcover
Their lives were a period piece. Their work would have had no other relevancy but during post war America. Masters was a pioneer in this medical field and Johnson a pioneer in her field of therapy. They were ahead of their time in taking a female inclusive approach to sex therapy. How would the sexual revolution have evolved without this staid Midwestern couple giving couples a means to discuss and/or improve their sex life?

At the end of the book we realize that besides their 1950's lab techniques, the necessary secretiveness of their work and their reluctance to franchise, they, themselves, were of this time as well. While the author doesn't speculate, besides Masters' deterioration with age, deeply rooted values probably affected his later work on homosexuality and AIDS. The norms of their youth and childhoods certainly informed both their attitudes towards each other.

The book is a great read, you can't put it down. I gave it 4 not 5 stars because there are some significant missing pieces in Johnson's portrait. While Masters' family life is well covered, Johnson's is vague. (How did she/someone else raise her children? "Uncle" Larry, whose death upsets her children had been mentioned only once.) Before and after the divorce, what was the actual governance/ownership of the institute, the copyrights and all the property associated with the partnership? Maier writes that Johnson lost heavily, but how is not clear. She has the very valuable tapes, which implies significant ownership.

The portrait of Virginia Johnson is so provocative it calls for more. Perhaps, someone can build on this and may get also get her cooperation, as had Maier.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Let me start off by saying that I don't have any problem with the sexual content of this book. But some of the heavy breathing feels so overdone, it's just really silly. Some of the depictions of sex, like the description of when Johnson loses her virginity, are also a little creepy.

But more importantly, I was really hoping for a critical examination of the lives and work of Masters and Johnson. What I got was just overwrought gossip and all surface. To me, it felt like the book was mostly just a string of interviews the author conducted and had only started to make sense of. There is so much in here that does not require direct quoting and where the full quote was overkill, or only serves to repeat an idea that has already been drilled into our heads: Masters was distant, Johnson was independent, yeah, yeah, we got it. A bunch of random doctors and colleagues talking about the speculation going around the office about whether or not Masters and Johnson were having sex with each other. The narrative is driven by this collection of quotes, rather than the other way around. That only works if the people being quoted have anything interesting to say, which is rarely the case here. It's pretty vapid stuff - Wow, Bill Masters liked football! And he sometimes annoyed his friend (a former pro turned coach) with his chatter - not exactly riveting. You could condense this entire book to less than 100 pages without losing any substance and without really losing too many details, either.

Additionally, the dramas here aren't dramas, but the real dramas are ignored. For example, Johnson's looking up of an old boyfriend near the end of her life and feeling sad when she heard he'd died does not qualify as a drama in my book, but a normal human response.
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