How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like

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Overview

“Engaging, evocative. . . . [Bloom] is a supple, clear writer, and his parade of counterintuitive claims about pleasure is beguiling.”—NPR
Why is an artistic masterpiece worth millions more than a convincing forgery? Pleasure works in mysterious ways, as Paul Bloom reveals in this investigation of what we desire and why. Drawing on a wealth of surprising studies, Bloom investigates pleasures noble and seamy, lofty and mundane, to reveal that our enjoyment of a given thing is determined not by what we can see and touch but by our beliefs about that thing’s history, origin, and deeper nature.

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Editorial Reviews

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.” (June)
NPR
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
Slate
A gracefully written book and a lot of fun.— Peter D. Kramer
Newsweek.com
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
Seed Magazine
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
Michael Washburn - NPR
“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.”
Katy Steinmetz - Time
“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.”
Kirkus Reviews
Bloom (Psychology/Yale Univ.; Descartes' Baby: How Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human, 2004, etc.) presents essentialism as a weighty determinant of our pleasures. "What matters most is not the world as it appears to our senses," writes the author. "Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think that thing is." In this scholarly yet spry book, the author strives to convey a sense of that mojo, surely one of the most elusive of qualities. A blind tasting of wine is always a good illustration of this point, as is the letdown we feel if we discover that the watch or painting we bought is a fake. The things that give us pleasure may bestow evolutionary advantage, excite pure sensuality or carry psychological significance. Bloom salts the book with all manner of pungent, apposite points-"females were drawn to males who gave them sexual pleasure, leading to the evolution of a better penis"-and stresses that we experience pleasure through the thing's real or imagined history. A record-setting, home-run baseball, the unwashed T-shirt of a celebrity, the purity of spring water, an original piece of sheet music or art-these have elemental stories, and we want to be part of those stories, to be transported, transformed and enriched. Adding to the thrill is a sense of the numinous, that there is something in operation beyond our ken. The author probes the history of sentimental objects, the contact and context that give them meaning; how we hope that qualities of the things we eat will pervade us; the ways in which we are attracted to the process of making art and storytelling; and the strange case of giving and receiving pain. A heartening, well-developed argument. Agent: Katinka Matson/Brockman, Inc.
Robin Marantz Henig
Bloom…has written 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 closets; Bloom is after something deeper than the mere stuff of feeling good. He analyzes how our minds have evolved certain cognitive tricks that help us negotiate the physical and social world—and how those tricks lead us to derive pleasure in some rather unexpected places.
—The New York Times
Time
“Sigmund Freud, Mr. Pleasure Principle himself, would have approved.”
The New York Times Book 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.”
Jonah Lehrer
“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.”
Steven Pinker
“Paul Bloom is among the deepest thinkers and clearest writers in the science of mind today. He has a knack for coming up with genuinely new insights about mental life—ones that you haven't already read about or thought of—and making them seem second nature through vivid examples and lucid explanations.”
Daniel Gilbert
“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 Levitin
“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.”
Jonathan Haidt
“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.”
Peter D. Kramer - Slate
“A gracefully written book and a lot of fun.”
Mary Carmichael - Newsweek.com
“Should stoke your neurons into a frenzy and leave you wanting more.”
Maywa Montenegro - Seed Magazine
“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.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393066326
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/14/2010
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 1,292,995
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale University. He is the author of Descartes’ Baby and How Pleasure Works. He has contributed to The Atlantic, the New York Times, Science, and Nature. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2010

    FASCINATING, ABSORBING BOOK!

    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!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 3, 2010

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    Posted June 12, 2010

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