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Thy Neighbor's Wife Paperback – April 14, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Every man who reads it will recognize himself. Every woman will discover, perhaps for the first time, the secret fantasies and public privations, the loneliness and passionate lusts, of most men.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

“A sexual Pilgrim’s Progress...Few writers have lived so long, traveled so far, on the frontiers of the sexual revolution.” (Atlantic Monthly)

“Talese does not proselytize, he informs...Readable and thoroughly entertaining.” (Vogue)

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"Engrossing and provocative." Library Journal
Bestselling author Gay Talese's exploration into the hidden and changing sex lives of Americans from all walks of life shocked the world when it was first published in 1981. Now considered a classic, this fascinating personal oddysey and revealing public reflection on American sexuality changed the way Americans looked at themselves and one another.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Updated edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061665436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061665431
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By F. Orion Pozo on February 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Gay Talese spent the 1970s studying the Sexual Revolution in the USA. He was no detached scientific observer in a white lab coat like Masters and Johnson. He threw himself into his work with enthusiasm. He lived the life he studied and the results of his work are in this book. But this is not just one man's report from the sexual frontier. As a disciplined reporter, he conducted countless interviews, but as a participant he was able to obtain trusting relationships. This is not Sociology; he reports on the people making money from the Sexual Revolution and their customers. It is primarily a book about men using women's sexuality to make money from other men.
This is not an exhaustive history but rather a look at selective people and their impact on the times. John and Barbara Williamson's Sandstone Retreat, a sexually open community in the hills near Los Angeles, is one group that Talese focuses on. Through interviews with many of the participants he explores the effects polyamory (openly maintaining multiple sexual relationships) has on the couples who belong to this group.
A large portion of the book examines the publishing pioneers who, after World War II, risked fines and jail to sell erotic books and magazines in the US. The Post Office laws against sending sexual materials through the mail was the core legal restraint in the US and Anthony Comstock was the chief enforcer of this law. Some of Comstock's more famous exploits are recounted. Talese also reports on the Supreme Court, its decisions, the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, and the Nixon White House's response to the loosening sexual climate. Hugh Hefner, one of the most famous people in sexual publishing, is also studied in some detail.
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Format: Paperback
This is the great smutty book of the baby-boom Seventies, one of the cornerstones of the mythology of the Me Decade and a major work in the canon of the New Journalism -- the exemplar of several things at once and tremendously popular and influential for many years. Coming to it thirty years later, though, the reader is struck by how diffuse it is, lacking a real through-line or conclusion. Perhaps there could never have been a conclusion to a book that was so thoroughly "the way we live now" -- we all did not stop living in 1980, and the way we lived kept changing, as it always does -- but Talese doesn't even make an attempt to sum the book up, just drags himself into the last chapter to explain what he wanted to do, or thought he was going to do, before bowing out quietly.

Thy Neighbor's Wife only explains itself in that last chapter, with Talese taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of all of the books that Thy Neighbor's Wife didn't become -- a consumer guide to massage parlors, Talese's own sexual autobiography, an in-depth look at the Sandstone Retreat, an examination of the intersection of nudism and sex -- before ending suddenly. Before that, it ran through twenty-five chapters, each one on a discrete topic, only slightly connected to the chapters before and after -- though he did circle back to a few topics: Sandstone, Hugh Hefner, and the place of Chicago in America's libido. Talese begins with a photo of Diane Webber (the model immortalized on the cover of the 2009 paperback edition) to tell the story of the late adolescence of a Chicago teen, Harold Rubin, who then disappears for several hundred pages.
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My, how the decades fly. During my teen years in Tulsa in the 1970's, I heard that something called "the sexual revolution" allegedly happened in the previous decade, and that it continued into the decade of my adolescence. But this revolution apparently hadn't reached Tulsa by the time I graduated from high school in 1978. I knew about Playboy and Penthouse magazines, and I furtively glanced at the drawings of naked hairy hippies in the original edition of a book called "The Joy of Sex." But in general I still lived in a conventional, repressive bubble when it came to the open expression of sexuality. For example, I have no recollection of any of the girls in my high school getting pregnant or acquring reputations for round heels.

Meanwhile, in the more civilized parts of the U.S., Talese documents how a great many Americans after the Second World War, often from rural areas or small towns like mine, decided that they wanted more out of life than mere middle class survival, so in various ways they started breaking taboos in a quest for sexual self-actualization, often by publishing photographs or literature which depicted the experiences of sex in plain language that everyone could understand. Some of these rebels even took steps to live out their dreams of sexual freedom, like the engineer turned free love cult leader John Williamson who basically sponsored orgies in his Sandstone compound in Southern California. Word of Williamson's philosophy and lifestyle, which sounds like a cross between swinging and polyamory, got around somehow in the U.S. before the internet, and many of the other sexual revolutionaries crossed paths with him eventually.

I found Williamson the most interesting personality in Talese's book.
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