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

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3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  1,279 ratings  ·  131 reviews
Yale psychologist Paul Bloom presents a striking new vision of the pleasures of everyday life.

The thought of sex with a virgin is intensely arousing for many men. The average American spends over four hours a day watching television. Abstract art can sell for millions of dollars. Young children enjoy playing with imaginary friends and can be comforted by security blankets...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published June 14th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2010)
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Louise Chapman
Having listened insatiably to Paul Bloom in his captivating Yale course to Introductory Psychology, when I tracked down his literature on Amazon, I had to buy this book. I do not regret the purchase whatsoever. The man writes with incredible lucidity and wit, and he conveys his points effectively until the end. 'How Pleasure Works' really made me think twice about why I get so much pleasure from certain activities, and, more importantly, why others get pleasure from things that I might personall...more
lola
This book sets up a theory for you (essentialism) and then puts a principle in place (that we like and derive pleasure from things because we perceive something "essential" about them) and expounds on it different ways: food, sex, collecting, whatever. The big problem with the book is that food, sex, collecting, whatever are humongous topics, each with their own "home theories" that are virtually ignored.

I felt this most acutely in the sex chapter, which was largely based around that fucking "p...more
Trish
What could be more relaxing and interesting than a conversation with a learned friend about what pleasures us? Bloom doeosn't shrink from describing the more depraved pleasures humans claim to like, nor does he ignore the mundane and ordinary things that make our lives interesting and fulfilling. And at the end, he mentiones the BIG questions of transcendence and truth, possibility and destiny. But what struck me now, perhaps at this time in my tiny life, so constrained by circumstance and my ow...more
Nikki
How Pleasure Works is an accessibly written book which mentions some theories and interesting experiments, without really delivering on the promise of "science" that explains "why we like what we like". Mostly, what Bloom has to offer are theories and interpretations: well presented and interesting, but judging from various reviews, not conclusive enough for people who want hard and fast answers. Luckily, I wasn't really expecting any, although I was hoping for a bit more science. I'm still left...more
Stephanie W
I had nothing against Paul Bloom's style for the durration of the book. In fact, I rather enjoyed his style and thought his simple language and format would be an adequate way of describing why we like what we like.

You can sum up Bloon's entire 200 page argument in about 2 sentences. "We like things when we feel there is an associated essential quality to their being, imparted from either and internal or external source. The extent of our likes vary across several categories, including food, sex...more
Michele
Fun fluff. I really hate to give this guy two stars for a decently written, well researched book. But for all the interesting anecdotes, experiments, and theories, the book doesn't begin to deliver what the title promises. In other words, the book promises to tell us why pleasure works, but the writer doesn't give us any concrete conclusions. He does suggest that we find pleasure with things and ideas that have an authentic, true "essence" - in other words, we have no tolerance for fakes. Each o...more
James
A fine book that made for great listening on a week of commutes to a workshop. It's one of a spate of recent tomes on cognitive neuroscience. I tend to enjoy these books (some others are Outliers, Predictably Irrational, and Herd), but I'm starting to feel like I'm just setting myself up for disappointment. In each of them, the author states a basic, completely intuitive thesis, and then spends the next several hundred pages beating it in to the dirt. I'm not sure what I expect at this point, bu...more
Richard
Jun 28, 2010 Richard marked it as to-read
Recommended to Richard by: NY Times
Shelves: cognition, nonfiction
Paul Bloom, author of How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like, wrote a fascinating essay for the New York Times Magazine entitled The Moral Life of Babies (with the adorably cute accompanying video, Can Babies Tell Right From Wrong?).

Although this book doesn't appear to related directly to the moral life of babies, if his quality of writing is as high then his treatment should be engrossing.
Cuteness alert!

• • • • • • • • • •

Bloom's book is reviewed favorably in the N...more
Elliot de Vries
Each chapter of How Pleasure Works attempts to demonstrate that a particular subset of the things we enjoy (e.g. food, art, love) at least partially depends on what Bloom calls our “essentialism” in order to give us pleasure. By “essentialism” Bloom means our tendency to believe that the things and people around us have various hidden essences which make them what they “truly” are. Examples of “essentialism” provided include: the way in which we naturally attribute a “life force”, “chi” or “élan...more
Yordan Eftimov
Разхвърляна работа, едва ли ще хареса на онези, които искат подредба. От друга страна, обяснението за удоволствието е достатъчно стегнато и толкова всеобясняващо, че вече има достатъчно изказали се в тази мрежа, които са се подразнили от неглижирането на всевъзможните частни теории за радостта и избора в областта на храненето, секса, изкуството, спорта etc.

За Пол Блум обяснението се крие в невъзможността на човека да не бъде есенциалист, надарявайки с някаква същност всичко около себе си. Е, таз...more
Deb
*Pleasure runs deep*

Why do we enjoy what we enjoy? Why does a bottle of Perrier seem to taste so much better than tap water, and why does that $200 bottle of wine seem to blow Two Buck Chuck out of the water? In both of these cases, the nature of the liquids inside the containers is not what makes the difference, but it is our beliefs about their invisible essences that shape our preferences and determine our enjoyment levels. In the author's own words: "What matters most is not the world as it...more
Emily
Bloom is an entertaining writer and in this book he promises to explain why we take pleasure in the things we take pleasure from. He does this by explaining his theory of essentialism: how we impart essences to things, whether we realize it or not. He offers good arguments and explanations to support his view, but ultimately the book seems lacking. He doesn't really provide anything more than his essentialist view of the world, restated in various contexts. And while it's possible his view may b...more
Taka
Misleading and Diffuse--

Paul Bloom, a developmental psychologist, argues convincingly in this eclectic book that we humans are "essentialists" by nature. In his own words, essentialism is a view that "things have an underlying reality or true nature that one cannot observe directly."

So we balk at the ideas of fake artworks, plastic surgery, drug-induced performance, and other phenomena that represent unautheticity.

The problem with this book is that it covers a wide range of topics from food, sex...more
Angela
A fun and quick read. Still in the philosophical vein, yes, but generally grounded in science, so it's all good. While yes, the only things any of us technically enjoy are dopamine & seratonin, Bloom works one level up from this & divides the book into several broad categories of things that give humans pleasure:

* Foodies (food & drink)
* Bedtricks (sex)
* Irreplaceable (sentimentality)
* Performance (arts & sports)
* Imagination (books, movies, TV, video games, etc.)
* Safety & p...more
Nancy McKinley
Competent but not pleasurable. The writing starts out strong but weakens with every chapter culminating in a lackluster finish that was better left unsaid; as nothing really was said. A display of facts and not much more. I am glad it is over....on to the next!
Tfindlay
Aug 03, 2010 Tfindlay marked it as to-read
I haven't read this book but from what I understand from looking at several reviews the author contends that what we value is the presumed essence of a thing. Much of the essence of a thing may involve the objects history. A sweater worn by George Clooney is more attractive than a brand new identical sweater (or George's sweater after it has been dry cleaned). Although I don't believe the author mentions this in the book it seems to me that the essence of a thing is not so much an inherent prope...more
Deanna Knippling
This a book to stimulate curiosity, not to answer it. Bloom presents several theories on how pleasure works, most of which revolve around the idea that, as humans, we believe that everything has an invisible, immeasurable essence, and that when our perception of that essence matches up with something desirable, we want it. Well, I disagree with several particulars, but it's an interesting idea. Maybe not the end-all, be-all of pleasure, but certainly interesting.
Elizabeth
Aug 29, 2014 Elizabeth rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Steven Pinker fans
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrick
Amazon:
Yale psychologist Paul Bloom presents a striking and thought-provoking new understanding of pleasure, desire, and value. The thought of sex with a virgin is intensely arousing for many men. The average American spends more than four hours a day watching television. Abstract art can sell for millions of dollars. People slow their cars to look at gory accidents, and go to movies that make them cry.

Pleasure is anything but straightforward. Our desires, attractions, and tastes take us beyond...more
Brian Clegg
I have to start this review with a confession and an apology to the author. When the book arrived for review in 2010 (no, not a typo), I was totally fed up with books about different human emotions. We had been absolutely drenched with the things, many of them rather tedious. So I put it to one side and forgot about it. A few days ago I needed a book to read, had nothing else to hand and discovered I'd made a big mistake - because the book is brilliant. So my apologies to Paul Bloom: the only th...more
Ariel Rosen
Art is something that gives most viewers pleasure, and why? That question is explored by Paul Bloom in a humorous but scientifically probing way. He makes the case that art, along with other things, have a bit of an essence to them. How we perceive that essence is how we determine our feelings toward a particular work of art. Bloom explains an experiment in which Joshua Bell, the virtuoso violinist, once played in a subway on his Stradivarius after performing at Boston's Symphony Hall. He only m...more
Kin Guan
Perhaps I am biased, but I have a particular fondness of psychology books - the study of human mind always boggles me. Why do we behave in this but not that way? Why do we like something but not other things? Why do we get pleasure in doing something? Apart from the hand-waving excuse "human nature" or the Darwinian evolution theory, there must be some deeper, down-to-the-root reasons for this, and this book is an excellent book to attempt answering that.

Paul Bloom's writing is easy to follow an...more
Angie
An unpleasant book about pleasure!
Publisher's Weekly said, "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." The Preface mentions the influence of several of my favorite scientists, such as Steven Jay Gould and Steve Pinker, and I had high hopes for a good read.
In the first chapter, Bloom describes the theory of essentialism, on which he says he will ba...more
Andrea
It is confusing to me that a book about pleasure could end up being such a shallow and unsatifying read. Perhaps there is some meta-meaning there. Everything for Bloom circles back to essentialism – that our satisfaction with experiences and things are driven by an essential quality and value imparted by internal or external forces. Which – okay. So what?

Individual chapters explored universal pleasures like food, sex, and the more intellectual pleasures of things like art. The chapters were enga...more
AyaSuu
"Sex und Kunst und Schokolade - Warum wir mögen, was wir mögen" verspricht am Klappentext nichts weniger, als ein Werk über die "Psychologie des Begehrens" oder "des Lustvollen" zu sein. Dieses Versprechen wird schon im ersten Kapitel gebrochen. NIE, aber auch wirklich NIE geht es in diesem Buch darum, wie Vergnügen, Lust oder Gefallen/Freude an etwas funktionieren. Das merkt man schon daran, dass es keine Definition dieser Begriffe gibt. Viel mehr ist das Buch ein Mittel, die Idee des "Essentia...more
Steele Dimmock
I expected this to be a breakdown on mental state of pleasure, but rather it was study in the quirkiness of the way human's place value on things.
Arguable, you can extrapolate that people get pleasure on high value, high status things.. But to me that speaks more to culturally induced values.

That being said, this book has some really great narratives about how bottled water is a farce, wine's price influences taste and people pay more for celebrity owned clothes if they are unwashed.

Worth a read...more
Jennifer
I have nothing against this book in particular - just the fact that I seem to be reading the same stuff over and over again under the guise of different titles-whether it is a book on happiness or how our brains work, or affection, or competition or any other host of things people try and research and explain--it often seems like the same things are being said over and over again. This book mainly is about how we find pleasure in things because of the essence we impart with objects, people, etc....more
Simon Friedman
Bloom's book, like Malcolm Gladwell's, is best when it takes an interesting anecdote or observation and teases out the relevant science, drawing from contemporary research in psychology and cognitive science. Unlike other critiques (of both writers) I have no problem with this general formula, even as it sometimes skips an exhaustive scientific overview in favor of a more thematic, story-based tale. It is rather the execution of this approach that I found somewhat lacking. Bloom's central theme,...more
*Kashi*
Paul Bloom Nos Propone la Teoria del "Essentialism"o como puerta al entendimiento de los placeres tanto los mas Instintivos o animales como los que son derivados del intelecto y de la "crianza cultural". Me parecio muy Interesante el uso de esta teoria esencialista ya que realmente son las cualidades mas profundas lo que muchos buscamos para nuestro placer, en este caso nos habla sobre como ciertas personas suelen Gastar grandes sumas de dinero por objetos que supuestamente fueron utilizados por...more
James
The book covers a bunch of stuff, really fast and with a degree of shallowness - it's not a research paper after all, but a survey of sorts. It was fun to read, plastered with unusual stories of sex, cannibalism, etc. As he gets into the way we process and derive pleasure, I found myself feeling silly and superficial in that I, (all of us), was just as prone to enjoy things for reasons that were nonsensical. Then in the final chapter Bloom confirms my silliness, explicitly:

"In fact, isn't this b...more
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Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has published more than a hundred scientific articles in journals such as Science and Nature, and his popular writing has appeared in the Ne...more
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