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Thy Neighbor's Wife Hardcover – 1980
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“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) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
sing 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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. How did a cracker from backwoods Alabama become a self-taught engineer with no college degree get a job with the early space program, and then reinvent himself as a real-life Michael Valentine Smith, minus Smith's woo-woo "Martian" powers, from Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land? Williamson deserves a full length biography. I'd like to know more about which books influenced his thinking, for example. Talese says that Williamson went through a period in the early 1960's when he read stacks of science fiction paperbacks, but which ones? Apparently Williamson's discovery of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in 1962 marked some kind of turning point in his thinking, which goes to show how Rand's influence has a way of popping up in unexpected places.
But all this swinging sexual excess happened a couple generations ago now, leaving us with a dubious legacy. Williamson wanted to transform the culture so that we wouldn't feel jealous or possessive in our love lives - but I notice that people still behave that way emotionally, and for evolved reasons relating to reproductive success. I slightly knew the writer F.M. Esfandiary, who argued for a similar revolution against possessiveness & jealousy in his book Up-wingers, so I have to wonder if he visited Williamson as well. Intellectual opinion in the 20th Century assumed environmental or behaviorist models of human nature, so given their assumptions they thought that a different social construction could transform the human condition and bring about a sexual utopia. Modern cognitive science promotes a more constrained view of the limits of human plasticity, however, and the previous sort of thinking now seems uninformed and naive.
As I said, this revolution happened a couple generations ago. Many of the people Talese profiles in his book have died by now. Hugh Hefner manages to hang on to a shadow of his former lifestyle somehow, but recent Playmates complain about the dirty, shabby and dilapidated state of the Playboy Mansion. In a way the wreck which answers to the name Hugh Hefner symbolizes how the wildest expectations of the sexual revolution have turned to ashes.