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The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  3,823 Ratings  ·  212 Reviews
From the "New York Times" bestselling author comes a "hugely entertaining" ( look at vice and virtue through cutting-edge science

As he did in his award-winning book "The Accidental Mind," David J. Linden--highly regarded neuroscientist, professor, and writer--weaves empirical science with entertaining anecdotes to explain how the gamut of behaviors that give us a b
ebook, 190 pages
Published April 1st 2011 by Penguin Books (first published April 14th 2010)
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Riku Sayuj

"So am I as the rich whose blessèd key
Can bring him to his sweet up-lockèd treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey,
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure."

Plato’s Compass

In The Republic and elsewhere, Socrates (or Plato, let us not get into technicalities here) repeatedly mentions ‘Temperance’ (or Moderation) as a principle virtue and vehemently condemns the seeking of pleasure - this eventually gave rise to the Stoic School, and of the philosophic abnegation of pleasure.
I learned a lot from this text. In fact, the neuroscience basics I learned in this book are now helping me with a very neuroscience-y science fiction book I've just picked up by Catharine Asaro.

This book is actually about more than addictions. It's about brain chemistry and how naturally humans interact with substances and experiences, before the introduction of addiction into the equation. The author writes in a very accessible style - I only got lost in the acronyms and neuron-specific verbs
Paul Dayton
Insightful discussions on pleasure, addiction, and societal implications can be found here. The level of scientific language may put off the typical layperson. Reads like an abstract of a scientific paper in some sections, with too much repetition of phrases of substances involved, which is an attempt to be precise but often just clutters the landscape and hinders clean absorption of the material. Historical sections are much more reader-friendly, interesting, and provocative, showing how fluid ...more
Robert Fischer
This book is an excellent book, but not for the faint of heart. It is basically a conversation with a neurophysiologist about how pleasure works, and the author has no problem delving into the jargon, acronyms, and experimental design of neuroscience to get an accurate description across. If you're expecting science writing with the popular accessibility of Mary Roach or even Michael Shermer, you're likely to be disappointed. Because of that, I gave it 3 stars as a "for-the-general-public" ratin ...more
Oct 16, 2011 Richard marked it as to-read-3rd  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by:
Shelves: nonfiction, cognition
Yet another PopCog book.

They’re coming in so fast and furious now that the New York Times has to review ’em in batches. Check out Is the Brain Good at What It Does? to read reviews of this one, plus two others.

The first, Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives gets a pretty nice review, but I’d already learned of it from NPR. The second, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn gets slammed royally.

But The Compass of Pleas
Feb 25, 2012 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I should have been a neuroscientist. I love this stuff so much! Linden does a great job here of explaining without either oversimplifying or obfuscating. I learned a lot about the pleasure circuitry of the brain. Perhaps my favorite bit was near the end, where Linden takes on Kurzweil's singularity as it relates to the brain. I wish there was more on exercise, of course, but it's not Linden's fault that the measuring is so damnably fuzzy that it's difficult to come up with data. This book made m ...more
Erich Franz Linner-Guzmann

I really enjoyed this one. I find books about the brain and why we do what we do fascinating. This book also mentioned addiction which is another subject that is fascinating to me. This book does a really good job in explain both.
Todd N
Mar 27, 2013 Todd N rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book in Idaho Falls on my way to a camping/biking vacation. That was a few years ago.

This is a very slim book, but there is a lot of information about the latest scientific findings related to the pleasure circuits in our brains (and the brains of mice, rats, and various monkeys).

It turns out that all of the drugs that we know and love, like heroin, cocaine, nicotine, THC, caffeine, and speed, directly affect the pleasure centers of our brain. And depending on how these drugs are i
Con tutta probabilità la parola che si ripete con maggior frequenza nel testo è: dopamina. E' il principale neurotrasmettitore responsabile dello stato di piacere ma, come una principessina capricciosa e viziata, tiene tutto il sistema in scacco. La sua mancanza o il suo eccesso portano a disequilibri comportamentali in cui il piacere diventa necessità, creando dipendenza.

Questo testo spiega con precisione scientifica e spesso con la simpatia dell'autore, le ultime indagini su animali e sull'uom
Mar 17, 2012 Lindsay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
David Linden was the chair of my thesis committee, so perhaps part of my enjoyment of this book was the vivid, imagined sense of his witty teaching style and mannerisms as I was reading. In his writing as in real life, Linden is casual and joking but with an undercurrent of intense enthusiasm and precision.

The Compass of Pleasure was a fantastic introduction to the brain circuitry underlying our ability to feel pleasure and an astute scientific discussion of how the ability to feel pleasure gui
Jan 09, 2013 Jacopo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jacopo by: Diego Petrucci
Libro affascinante. Sarà che mi lascio catturare facilmente da questi argomenti, ma davvero non riuscivo a smettere di leggere.

Essenzialmente l'autore spiega nel dettaglio come e perché proviamo piacere, in che modo sia quest'ultimo a guidare ogni nostra azione volontaria, dal mangiare un piatto di pasta, al fare beneficenza, passando per il sesso. Dalla ricerca del piacere alla dipendenza il passo è però molto breve, viene quindi spiegato in che modo si sviluppa una dipendenza e analizzati i su
Dec 26, 2011 cat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 100-in-2011
2011 Book 127/100

This book that examines the ways that our brains experience and register pleasure had some fascinating information such as explanations of nasal intercourse of bottlenose dolphins in the Amazon, a discussion of Siberian reindeer that seek out the hallucinogenic urine from other deer that have ingested the mushroom Amanita Muscaria, and the physical reasons that Parkinson's Disease sufferers may be less likely to gamble, but there is a LOT of science to wade through in the pursui
Linden talks about addiction from a purely scientific perspective, without the typical society prejudice. Honestly, I didn't know there was so much information researched thoroughly on it out there. And wow, there is so much we don't know. But truly, addiction seems to really be a hardwired, genetic brain issue for the most part. There is a lot of interesting insight in this book.

So should I still wait until I am 80 like I have always said to do drugs? Here is my answer. Marijuana is just as add

I studied some Neuroscience in college and loved this book. It was not over my head, but I probably need to take a look at my Kandle Neuroscience to refresh my memory about certain brain foci.

It was like a blend of pop psychology and neuroscience, and I LOVED IT!! I listened to this in audio format and would like to get it in hardback or paperback as a reference.

It is highly entertaining; who doesn't like hearing about sex experiments and where your brain is being stimulated with addict
Jul 31, 2012 Eve rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The author, David Linden, writes in the acknowledgements that "conveying scientific information in a clear and engaging manner is a difficult business," and as a nonscientific layperson, I believe that he failed in this endeavor. I'm no dummy; I have a masters in a social science discipline from an ivy league institution, but the neuroscience in this was way beyond me. There were some very interesting data sprinkled throughout, but on the whole I found the book to be a mind-numbing quagmire. Too ...more
Jun 21, 2011 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dense, yet interesting scientific explanation of what pleasure is, why we experience it, how it rewires our brains, addiction, and what ties together the diversity of experiences we perceive as pleasurable (from food, to generosity, to sex, to drugs, to exercise, etc.)

At times dense and complicated (especially for this layman), ultimately it's a profound continued exploration of how we define pleasure, what it means for us to be creatures who experience pleasure, and how we can use that as a t
Apr 08, 2012 dejah_thoris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The premise makes it sound more interesting and accessible than it actually is. I know neuroscience is hard to make understandable to the layperson, but the description of the book minimizes the amount of biological chemistry Linden discusses by playing up the pleasurable topics more. Definitely a good book for an academic psychology collection (learned tons about my mother in the gambling addiction chapter) but probably a struggle to read for most people outside of class.
Nov 12, 2013 Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academia, favorites
This a wonderful dip into neurchemical transmitters, general neurology, and behavior.

It may sound like esoteric science, but Linden is able to manage making even 12 syllable transmitters, proteins and the like - immediately understandable and enjoyable.

In short, this is what I'd always hoped to have as a text book, or as a long chat with a witty and smart friend.
Catherine Woodman
Aug 26, 2011 Catherine Woodman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that is on the NPR summer reading list, and I think it is a terrific introduction to neuroscience for the non-scientist (and speaking as a psychiatrist, for the scientist as well). Linden takes complex ideas and conflicting research dara and makes sense of the bad habits we humans seem to gravitate towards. It is readable, understandable and enjoyable--a rare combination.
Jun 28, 2013 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read on the subject of why we find things pleasurable and also why some become addicted, whether it be drugs, alcohol, food. Pitched at just the right level to be accessible to both readers with a background in science and those without.
Apr 25, 2012 Lene rated it it was ok
I was disappointed with this book. There was a lot of time spent on basic neuropsychology, which was necessary & presented well, but most of which I already knew. I was looking for something more.
May 16, 2012 Paige rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very fun and accessible tome on neuroscience.
Ami Iida
May 19, 2015 Ami Iida rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: neuroscience
Shelves: neuroscience
extremely intriguing! essential book and
requiring book
Jul 07, 2012 Book rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: neuroscience
The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good by David J. Linden

"The Compass of Pleasure" is an interesting although uneven book dealing with the science of pleasure. This book deals with a diverse range of experiences of pleasure that activate biochemically defined pleasure circuit in the brain. Award winning author of "The Accidental Mind", neuroscientist and professor, David J. Linden takes the rea
Really liked the research on weight & appetite, & I never knew about the competing biofeedback systems that influence both long-term appetite and short-term hunger/fullness and the complexities of how those systems interact with other pleasure/reward loops. That was useful

But besides that, the book got into a predictable pattern.
a. pick a thing that can give pleasure [sugar, cocaine, meditation, video-games, generosity]
b. explain research studies that demonstrates the thing activates th
Maddy Karpiuk
Feb 03, 2017 Maddy Karpiuk rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recommend this book to anyone and everyone whether they have an interest in neurology or not. It is easy to read and explains how pleasure is made in the brain. It breaks down how the brain processes different addictions and explains why an addiction to alcohol is different from cocaine. Vastly informative and super fun to learn what makes us feel good.
Jul 14, 2011 Ms.pegasus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in psychological issues
Linden has shouldered the thankless job of making the neuroscience of pleasure accessible to the layperson. His approach is beguiling. The pleasure circuit – an image of grade school science: A switch, ion flow, light bulb – springs immediately to mind. Innocuously, he introduces the VTA (ventral tegmental area of the brain), and a flow of ions and chemicals stimulating or inhibiting areas in other parts of the brain: the nucleus accumbens, medial forebrain bundle, septum, thalamus and hypothala ...more
Loy Machedo
Apr 03, 2013 Loy Machedo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loy Machedo’s Book Review: The Compass of Pleasure by David J. Linden

Ever since I read books on the Human Mind & Human Behavior notably by authors like Jonah Lehrer, Malcom Galdwell, Dan Aierly, Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner and Sam Harris, I have become deeply fascinated with the world of Neuroscience, Cognitive Science and Psychology.

In a Nutshell, what this book is about?
A Scientific explanation to why we are addicted to the following:
1. Sex
2. Unhealthy & Rich Food
3. Exercise
Apr 17, 2014 Mitch rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is interesting, and very good when research is cited; however, it seems to go off kilter in the section about food. The author writes that our ancestral diet was mostly vegetarian, with very little fat, and that animal meat was a rare luxury. He claims that when animal meat was found, it was quite lean. He gives no references in this section. His statements here are quite at odds with several other experts in their books on this topic, which DO cite research indicating that our ancestra ...more
Jul 19, 2011 Orsolya rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library, the-brain
One doesn’t have to be a scientist to conclude that certain things like food and sex are perceived as pleasurable in order for us to sustain and forward our species. However, why are other areas, such as vices like drugs and gambling also pleasurable? What happens in the brain when decoding these habits? These are some of the questions I hoped to have answered in David J. Linden’s “The Compass of Pleasure”.

I am an avid reader of neuroscience books (along with psychology/behavioral studies) but “
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David J. Linden, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His laboratory has worked for many years on the cellular substrates of memory storage in the brain and a few other topics. He has a longstanding interest in scientific communication and served for many years as the Chief Editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology. He is the au ...more
More about David J. Linden...

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“Clearly, Siberian reindeer are not fighting over drugged urine for its nutrative value.” 6 likes
“Experiements that have been devised to inflict even mild social pain (like exclusion form a group task or betrayal by a partner in a gambling game) have demonstrated significant activation of the sinula and the anterior cingulate cortex. Emotional pain isn't just a metaphor: In terms of brain activation, it partially overlaps with physical pain.” 5 likes
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