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Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them

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"Lose yourself: Swoon has wicked fun answering that age-old query: What do women want?"?Chicago Tribune
Contrary to popular myth and dogma, the men who consistently beguile women belie the familiar stereotypes: satanic rake, alpha stud, slick player, Mr. Nice, or big-money mogul. As Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress, points out in this surprising, insightful study, legendary ladies? men are a different, complex species altogether, often without looks or money. They fit no ...

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Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them

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"Lose yourself: Swoon has wicked fun answering that age-old query: What do women want?"—Chicago Tribune
Contrary to popular myth and dogma, the men who consistently beguile women belie the familiar stereotypes: satanic rake, alpha stud, slick player, Mr. Nice, or big-money mogul. As Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress, points out in this surprising, insightful study, legendary ladies’ men are a different, complex species altogether, often without looks or money. They fit no known template and possess a cache of powerful erotic secrets.
With wit and erudition, Prioleau cuts through the cultural lore and reveals who these master lovers really are and the arts they practice to enswoon women. What she discovers is revolutionary. Using evidence from science, popular culture, fiction, anthropology, and history, and from interviews with colorful real-world ladykillers, Prioleau finds that great seducers share a constellation of unusual traits.While these men run the gamut, they radiate joie de vivre, intensity, and sex appeal; above all, they adore women. They listen, praise, amuse, and delight, and they know their way around the bedroom. And they’ve finessed the hardest part: locking in and revving desire. Women never tire of these fascinators and often, like Casanova’s conquests, remain besotted for life.Finally, Prioleau takes stock of the contemporary culture and asks: where are the Casanovas of today? After a critique of the twenty-first-century sexual malaise—the gulf between the sexes and women’s record discontent—she compellingly argues that society needs ladies’ men more than ever. Groundbreaking and provocative, Swoon is underpinned with sharp analysis, brilliant research, and served up with seductive verve.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This exhaustive study of the hows, whys, and wherefores of seductive men ranges from ancient to modern, from the sublime to the ridiculous, and from literature to real life. Bite-size tidbits from the legends of ancient Greece bump into fantasy story lines from contemporary American romance novels. In addition to her copious research, Prioleau (Seductress) interviews real-life men with reputations as successful seducers in an effort to understand their powers. There’s Michael “The King,” apparently invincible; Nick the Fireman, “a man who gives off licks of electricity” as a result of his charisma; George Reese, the conversationalist who “conjures enchantment—of a prepotent kind”; Gustin, the Darien, Conn., cab driver, who has “more female adulation at sixty-seven than he knows what to do with.” Prioleau draws endlessly on the work of experts: evolutionary psychologists, neuropsychiatrists, social anthropologists, sociolinguists, a Harlequin Romance editor, philosophers, sex researchers, the occasional personal trainer and more. She is so committed to her research that on one page alone she breathlessly cites Havelock Ellis, Ortega y Gasset, the Sumerian deity Dmuzi, Dionysus, Milan Kundera, psychologists, popular romance, David Niven, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Queen Elizabeth I. But rather than an engaging romp, the book is set at such a frantic pace as to be charmless, head-spinning, and exhausting. 12 illus. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (Feb).
Molly Haskell
“Betsy Prioleau’s witty and compelling book is a fresh take on the question of what women want. I wholly agree with her thesis that the true seducer is not the swaggering Don Juan of myth and melodrama, but the ordinary-looking man who likes, loves, and listens to women.”
Peter J. Buckley
“Swoon is a revelatory—and revolutionary—work that radically expands our understanding of human desire and unveils the mysteries surrounding passionate love. Prioleau answers Freud’s vexed question: "What do women want?" It is also a profound cultural history of eros with evocative case studies of great seducers. The reader of this remarkable book will be happily seduced and enlightened.”
Gail Sheehy
“How did we forget what women really want? Men who pulse with vitality, who enjoy female company, who give great conversation, whose sheer ardor compels our surrender—as Betsy Prioleau reminds us in her beautifully written, deeply researched, and desperately needed rediscovery of the men who make us 'Swoon.'”
Kirkus Reviews
A fun, frothy complement to cultural historian Prioleau's Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World (2003). Between the numerous literary examples of famous lotharios, the author inserts plenty of real-life lady-killers and analyzes what it is about them that attracts women so avidly. Prioleau also dispels some of the myths about these roués--e.g., that they are in some way malevolent or that rakes are all rich and gorgeous. In fact, she writes, like the real Casanova, they are most often witty conversationalists, funny and truly fond of women. They might even be a little androgynous, like Gary Cooper, "more beautiful than any woman except Garbo," and not even handsome, like British statesman Duff Cooper, who was "plump and saucer-faced with an oversized head." "Rather than hackneyed, mustache-twirling stage villains," writes the author, "they're a mixed breed…who magnetize women to them." Prioleau even delves into evolutionary psychology and cites wisdom from a variety of sources, including Darwin, who claimed that women are attracted to alpha males for mating purposes. A successful rake has a combination of traits like charisma, courage, a nice voice, the ability to listen and spout poetry, and he must convey his interest in the lady in question at all costs. In the final chapters, Prioleau offer some rather perplexing advice on how babe magnets keep their relationships fresh--e.g., "For lasting passion, an inexhaustible, expansive identity is the penultimate spell." A merrily readable literary history/dating manual.
Andy Borowitz
“I read Swoon in the hope that some of its subjects would even slightly resemble me. I loved the book anyway.”
Barbara Taylor Bradford
“Betsy Prioleau’s vivacious prose grabs the reader, as does her marvelous wit, her insight into sexual desire, and her extraordinary research. It’s a fascinating, very sexy read, especially her interviews with great lovers of today who detail why they’re so successful in their seduction of women.”
Miami Herald
“Bold…with a pinch of bawd, laid on a foundation of detailed research…A dazzling parade of lovers who embody what women want, which isn’t always what we’re told or what one might expect.”
New York Post
“Prioleau shows how the intoxicating mix of traits that make women swoon often goes deeper than the obvious looks, status and riches, at times bypassing them altogether.”
“Sharp, sexy and completely engrossing. . . . Whether Prioleau is writing about Casanova, Bill Clinton or the great French actor Gérard Depardieu, she brings to life those elusive qualities of the world’s great seducers.”
Library Journal
This is the male complement to Prioleau's 2004 treatise on the history and allure of sirens, Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love. Here she debunks the myth that the stereotypical "bad boy" is the most desirable male archetype and investigates the many men (real and fictitious) throughout history who have had a way with women. With exceptional vocabulary and bright prose, Prioleau (former scholar in residence, cultural history, New York Univ.) offers a thoroughly researched, irresistible, accessible look at ladies' men. From well-known characters such as Casanova and Don Juan to contemporary and historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Albert Camus, and Jack Nicholson, who had great success as seducers, Prioleau teases out the qualities that render certain men magnetic for women. She also offers historical, scientific, and sociological perspectives, as well as interviews with today's Romeos, who reveal the sometimes unexpected secrets to their success. VERDICT A frank, fascinating look at the characteristics of historical and contemporary seducers. Lovers of social and cultural history, as well as the merely romantically curious, will enjoy it.—Elizabeth Winter, Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta
The Barnes & Noble Review
As the author of twenty-two romances, I ought to be an expert on the characteristics of great seducers. But in reality I'm reluctant to apply the word to my heroes. There's an air of misogyny around it, a sense of heartlessness and (even worse) an indiscriminate preference for many lovers as opposed to one. Even Shakespeare eschewed the label; the only character he terms a seducer is the unpleasant and unrepentant Bertrand in All's Well that Ends Well. (Which, by the end, doesn't end well because anyone can see that Bertrand's philandering is not going to be bottled up by a wedding ring.)

Betsy Prioleau's Swoon is an amusing and informative history of Lotharios that fully acknowledges the reprehensible side of her subject — while emphasizing that distaste doesn't mean such men don't exist. No matter how we romanticize love, the truth is that over human history a few men have been able to take their pick from among the women they encounter. Prioleau brings in DNA studies, sociologists, and the like, but all of it boils down to a conundrum: what do these men have that the rest of their testosterone-laden brethren do not?

Her task is a complicated one. How does a researcher identify seducers, in the flesh, in history, in books? When Prioleau finds a man named Jack, given to crushing his empty beer cans for emphasis, I'm pretty sure that back in my dating days he would have had absolutely no chance of enlisting me to help spread his DNA. Does that mean that seducers stick to their class, to their race, to their historical period?

The answer is no. A true seducer cuts a wide swath, befuddling women so they don't notice the beer cans around his feet or the 400 female contacts in his iPhone. Physical beauty is definitely not required; Prioleau interviews one blessed with "the face of an overfed hamster."

Swoon wanders far and wide, investigating the seductive ploys of men who don't rely on mere physical beauty to attract women. Johnny Depp, for example, "ornaments himself for maximum erotic impact" by "playing to the nostalgia for male plumage." The text leaps effortlessly from philosophers to academics to real people, putting Sumerian fertility gods in conversation with Casanova. Prioleau even examines my genre, pointing out that mass-market romance heroes are "talkative girlfriends embodied in 210 pounds of Mr. America muscle mass." If I'm honest about it, she's not far off in that analysis. My own father, the poet Robert Bly, makes an appearance, holding forth on male lovers' "wild warrior energy."

My dad wrote Iron John as a guide for men who needed to recover the wilderness within (yes, my childhood was punctuated by the beating of drums). Swoon will probably be read mostly by women, who will find themselves laughing aloud at the ploys of hamster-faced Lotharios. Too bad. It really should be read by men. Swoon would be an excellent guide for a man who wants to be desirable to women. It would even help with my father's larger project, which could be summed up as initiating men into a world of male leadership.

Because — following Prioleau's lead with a quote from Bette Midler — "If you know what women want, you can rule."

Eloisa James is a New York Times–bestselling author of historical romances, as well as a professor of English literature teaching Shakespeare at Fordham University. In addition to her novels, she has written the memoir Paris in Love.

Reviewer: Eloisa James

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393068375
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/4/2013
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,382,056
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Betsy Prioleau is the author of Seductress and Circle of Eros and was a scholar in residence at New York University where she taught cultural history. She lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 29, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Swoon: Great Seduc­ers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Pri­olea

    Swoon: Great Seduc­ers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Pri­oleau is a non-fiction book which tries to ana­lyze what makes a ladies’ man. The book makes an inter­est­ing read and I only wish I would have read it when I was sin­gle and still look­ing for a mate for life.

    The book has bad news for us guys – being a ladies’ man can­not be learned, one has to be born with “it”. The author found out that there is no tem­plate for being a Casanova, it’s nei­ther money nor atti­tude but com­plex, and some­times dis­tinct, personalities.

    Ms. Pri­oleau ana­lyzes the great lovers of our time and from ages long ago from Casanova to Ash­ton Kutcher and those who aren’t famous but get the ladies, the schmos down the street which we all scratch our bald pates in amaze­ment when­ever they get the girl (a notable excep­tion is myself – just to think I was sit­ting by the phone for hours and days wait­ing to be interviewed).

    The book is divided into sec­tion about Charisma, the char­ac­ters, the mind, senses and more. The author pro­vides exam­ples from his­tory, fic­tional and non-fictional peo­ple as well as famous and the not-so-famous as they per­tain to each sec­tion and/or sub­sec­tion (some swoon­ers are in more then one place).

    It was inter­est­ing to read how wrong the ideal “ladies man” is in the eye of soci­ety, this won­der­fully researched book shows that they are not hand­some mil­lion­aires but those who have many other qual­i­ties (beauty is not one of them), the main one being joie de vivre – a love of life, and those man sim­ply put women up on a pedestal.

    While I did enjoy the non-fiction part of the book, I didn’t care for the exam­ples of men from romance nov­els. While I do appre­ci­ate fic­tion of any genre I felt that a woman writ­ing about an ideal man (which might exist – but prob­a­bly not) didn’t really teach me anything.

    Swoon is an enjoy­able book with much to teach the men of the world about women. While the bad news is that on

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2013

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