- Paperback: 456 pages
- Publisher: Counterpoint (29 November 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1619021552
- ISBN-13: 978-1619021556
- Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.2 x 23.5 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,69,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire Paperback – 29 Nov 2012
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
"Sex and Punishment" is the fascinating four-thousand year history of mainly western society's attempt to control sexuality through the law. This eye-opening book covers a wide spectrum of societal sexual manifestations up until the end of the 19th century. Writer, lawyer and journalist, Eric Berkowitz takes the reader on a voyeuristic ride into humankind's obsession to control sex via the law. With countless in-depth cases the author shows what has happened to those who engage in sexual behavior that runs contrary to prevailing societal attitudes. This at times mesmerizing 456-page book is composed of the following eight chapters: 1. Channeling the Urge: The First Sex Laws, 2. Honor Among (Mostly) Men: Cases from Ancient Greece, 3. Imperial Bedrooms: Sex and the State of Ancient Rome, 4. The Middle Ages: A Crowd Condemned, 5. Groping Toward Modernity: The Early Modern Period, 1500 - 1700, 6. The New World of Sexual Opportunity, 7. The Eighteenth Century: Revelation and Revolution and 8. The Nineteenth Century: Human Nature on Trial.
1. A well researched book that provides many riveting historical examples.
2. As fascinating a topic as you will find: sex and society's quest to legislate it.
3. At the heart of this book, Berkowitz shows quite compellingly with a luxury of details what happens to those who engage in sexual behavior that runs contrary to prevailing societal attitudes. "At any given point in time, some forms of sex and sexuality have been encouraged while others have been punished without mercy. Jump forward or backward a century or two, or cross a border, and the harmless fun of one society becomes the gravest crime of another."
4. The book covers from the early Sumerian kingdom of Ur-Namma (2100 BC) to the trial of Oscar Wilde (1895). Roughly a period of four-thousand years.
5. The origination of Western sex law. What they represent.
6. The book is full and I mean full of eye-opening facts. I guarantee that after reading this book you will not lack for interesting topics. "It was not until about 9000 BC that the link between sexual intercourse and pregnancy was confirmed."
7. I'm astounded and you will be too at what was considered scientifically acceptable as recent as late 19th century.
8. This book covers a wide variety of sexual manifestations including uncomfortable sexual taboos. I'm flabbergasted at some of the accounts!
9. The author provides many examples that show the abhorrent treatment of women throughout history and cultures. "The strength of Rome would depend on keeping women in line and preventing the corrupting influence of femininity in men."
10. The greatest sex crimes. The evil of slavery, rape...
11. Homosexuality in perspective, before morality and how it evolved over time and cultures.
12. Sexual prohibitions. A lot of this book covers sexual prohibitions and what events transpired to arouse legislation. Prostitution.
13. The impact of Judaism and Christianity on society with regards to sex and punishment. Protestant reformation.
14. The book covers the penalties associated with sexual behavior. Some of it is guaranteed to shock and provoke the reader. "The penitentials were the church's field guides for ranking good and bad sexual behavior." Sexual repression. Witchcraft.
15. The battlefield of obscenity. Society's obsession. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.
16. The fruits of overseas conquest.
17. The issue of race in the United States. Fascinating stuff.
18. The ravages of self-abuse. Society's quest to control private pleasures.
19. Censorship of books, written materials. The impact of the word. The punishments.
20. The issue of age of consent. The laws that raised the age of consent. Global influence.
21. Sterilization. An awful abhorrent practice...its history.
22. Links worked fine. A notes and bibliography section.
1. Some of the stories depicting the more outlandish sexual acts will repulse the average reader.
2. Stories involving harsh punishments of people in particular women and children is uncomfortable.
3. The book lacks overall cohesion. It's not always a smooth transition from one story to another and at times repetitive.
4. Charts would have added value. Charts that summarized the sexual behaviors by culture and the laws created to control and/or punish them would have added value to the book.
5. I think the author originally wanted to make a book that covered until current times but decided to stop at the Oscar Wilde trial (1895). Hopefully a part two is in the works.
6. At over 400 pages the book does require an investment of your time.
In summary, this is an entertaining, enlightening and eye-opening book. The author succeeds in providing the reader with the history of Western civilization from the perspective of law and libido. It is full of amusing and at times even shocking stories that will leave you dumbfounded. Some of the acts depicted in the book can be repulsive and will make some readers very uncomfortable. That all being said, if you want to learn about sexual behavior and society's quest to legislate it this book certainly succeeds. I recommend it!
Further recommendations: "Bisexuality in the Ancient World" by Eva Cantarella, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, "Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade--and How We Can Fight It" by David Batstone, "Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves" by Sarah B. Pomeroy, "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time" by Greg Mortenson "Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice" by Jack Holland, "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, "Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence Across Culture and History" by Jack David Eller, "Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars" by Sikivu Hutchinson, and "Slavery As Moral Problem: In the Early Church and Today (Facets)" by Jennifer Glancy.
I know of no other way to give a prospective reader an idea what he/she might uncover except through a few examples of the hundreds of neat facts the author reveals throughout the book. There is a nice biography section for those wishing to read further and also an index to help find reference points.
1. "It was not until about 9000BC that the link between sexual intercourse and pregnancy was confirmed." [p17]
2. "As late as 1878 the British Medical Journal ran extensive correspondence on the question of whether or not a ham could turn rancid at the touch of a menstruating woman." [p19]
3. In Egypt circa 1000BC, "Men who damaged stone property markers were forced to give up their wives and children to be raped by donkeys, but sex with goats was regarded as a form of divine devotion." [p24]
4 Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) later known as St. Augustine was the person credited with creating the idea of Original Sin. [p125]
5. Licensed prostitution began in Italy in 1358 "[When] the grand council of Venice would declare that prostitution was absolutely indispensable to the world." [p134]
6. A cure for a male who had VD was thought to be assured if he had sex with a virgin. [p296]
7. We learn of what the various ages of consent were in various countries and in our own states, with the youngest age being 7. You'll need to read to find out what liberal state thought that was about right.
8. There was a lengthy discussion on the Comstock and Mann Acts. Anthony Comstock was actually trying to ban pornography to prevent masturbation, as he himself seemed to have a big problem with that. Some other sex pioneers trying to prevent the same practice by creating foods to quell the spilling of seed were Sylvester Graham and his famous Graham crackers, and here you always thought they were just for snacking. :) We also have Dr. John Harvey Kellogg who created his breakfast food for the exact same purpose. Now you know why they later fortified them with vitamins after some years. There is also a good movie explaining Kellogg's belief on that subject entitled The Road to Wellville.
9. We also learn how Comstock's Act caused the imprisonment and death of needless people as the early sexual information crusader Ida Craddock and I can recommend a book about her life for those so interested in early birth control methods and counseling. It is called Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman
10 Finally we have a fairly lengthy discourse on Oscar Wilde who spent 2 yrs in prison for sodomy. He was made an example of due to his arrogance and manner of dress, plus he wasn't particularly discreet at a time when that would have been the smart thing to be. He also wrote in a manner emphasizing the gay lifestyle as with his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and his play The Importance of Being Earnest.
This might seem like a lengthy list, but I assure you the author has crammed many more facts into this worthy book on the subject. The book is quite readable and informative without being prurient. Highly recommended.