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

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  2,097 Ratings  ·  158 Reviews

“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 inve
Kindle Edition, 280 pages
Published (first published 2010)
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Aug 09, 2010 lola rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Louise Chapman
Oct 31, 2010 Louise Chapman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Maryana Pinchuk
As far as the popularizers go, this is more substantive than a Gladwell but far less so than a Pinker. In fact, much of the research and insights discussed were pulled directly from other popularizers, including Pinker, to the point where I felt some serious deja vu (deja lu?).

Also, for a book about pleasure, a nontrivial portion of it being devoted to cannibalism as compared to other lurid but not-that-lurid pleasures just feels like whatever the book equivalent is of clickbait. Amazon one-cli
Jul 01, 2011 Trish rated it really liked it
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
Nov 28, 2010 Michele rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Why and how humans are different from the other animals. Explains and talks about the oft-quoted "sixth sense" of ours. Talks about essentialism, how the history of anything is as important to humans as the thing itself (auctions of personal items of famous people, security blankets, attachments to personal belongings), importance to material things, imaginary friends, our enjoyment of music and art, sexual subterfuge, imagination, delight in good food, voyeurism, empathy, fiction, black humour, ...more
Maria Năzdrăvan
I bought this book after following a few captivating online talks by Paul Bloom. It was a pleasant read and it will prove insightful to anyone with a minimum knowledge of psychology. However, more experienced readers might feel disappointed, like I did, by the lack of a deeper explanation of his thesis. Basically, he argues that people are essentialists, that we believe in "an underlying reality or true nature that one cannot observe directly" but matters most and is the basis of us finding plea ...more
Jun 25, 2010 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 16, 2015 Richard marked it as to-read-3rd  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: NY Times
Shelves: nonfiction, cognition
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
Elliot de Vries
Jul 18, 2013 Elliot de Vries rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 06, 2014 Yordan Eftimov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Angelo Zimbelmann
Sep 03, 2015 Angelo Zimbelmann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
This book is very interesting in way it defines not only society’s view on value but why we think something is valuable.This book breaks down pleasure through value in two ways,value as in money and value as in meaningful to us as individuals and not a society as a whole.We feel pleasure when we have something valuable to us such as something that may cast a familiar memory of a time in which brought pleasure yet,that is not valued by an individual outside of this experience,yet something make a ...more
Apr 28, 2012 Deb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
*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
Apr 06, 2011 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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!
Aug 03, 2010 Tfindlay marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 09, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here are my notes:

# Claims
- Humans are essentialists
- A lot of our pleasures are deep
- Essentialism biases a lot of our pleasures (food, sex, music, art)
- We take pleasure in the history of things, including art

# Essentialism
We instinctively understand that what we perceive is not the end of the matter. And we attach meaning and derive pleasure from the deeper essence of people and things.

# Art
We enjoy art for its aesthetic qualities but also because of its essence: we care about the history of
Nikita Morrison
Paul bloom is a now favorite author turntable from over the summer. I recently read about Paul bloom over a book reading for psychology. I rated this book as three stars because although he gave some good theories and he gives a lot of experiments that have been dealt in the past it wasn't really to scientific but I felt as if it were going off topic. however in the book I did find a Hannibal moment, which was very very creepy. I also found some interesting facts that make me differentiate mysel ...more
Austin Bates
A fairly good book exploring, in a mostly critical and adaptionist view, why we find pleasure in the things we do. The earliest chapters, exploring baseline concepts such as food and sex, tended to be the most grounded with the most research backing. Later chapters tended to veer too much toward speculation and philosophy.

The author also tends to be a bit hit and miss in narrative abilities. At times he's engaging and the style is not unlike "Freakonomics". However, where that book typically too
DeAnna Knippling
May 21, 2016 DeAnna Knippling rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
Sean Goh
Aug 14, 2015 Sean Goh rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psych
Still not very sure what the point of the book was.

You hit one home run in the big leagues, it doesn't make you a home run hitter.. To make one (racist) comment doesn't make you a racist. Point: Nouns carry essential weight. e.g. I am an idiot VS I did something idiotic.

Children generally start off as essentialists, and only later in development do they accept cultural explanations.

There is a distinction between how something tastes and how much one likes it. Maybe this is how knowledge can aff
Yasser Mohammad
Bloom puts forward about origins of pleasure in the cases (many) for which no evolutionary benefit can be perceived (e.g. art). The proposal is based on essentialism which assumes that people perceive things to have a deeper essence that they relate to (like or dislike).
The book is refreshing in the sense of taking a new perspective on things. For example the chapter about food starts by discussing canipalism rather than neutrals and neutratinal needs of stone age people.
On the other hand, the
Jan 27, 2015 Nargiz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sex, food, rock-&-roll

Brain circuits that are generated as a part of reward mechanisms led a human(as well as animals) to experience pleasure. “How pleasure works ” by Paul Bloom touches upon the various aspects such as food, sex, music, imagination etc. that are essential elements of human pleasure system. The book contains of 8 chapters, and 6 of them are thematically divided. My expectation was to get more scientific explanation on the causes of human pleasure( e.g. which part of t
Tom Schulte
Jun 20, 2016 Tom Schulte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and quick read about the mysterious and at times contradictory ways we get pleasure, and to a large extent feel aversion.

There are a lot of enlightening historical tidbits here I didn't know, like a simple chemical test to identify super-tasters along with a lot studies backing up facts about how we place value on ownership and contact around a basic theory of essentialism.

Back when I was at GM, it was remarked prices changed, but you could always get extra work or effect a thank
Ana Maria Rînceanu
I get that the author was trying to convey the bare bones of the theory so as to make it easy for everyday people to understand, but by the end of this book, I had a lot more questions that needed an answer. I'm probably going to need to read another book on this topic.
Apr 22, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Essences exist, & it makes sense for us to be attuned to them.

What did help with stress was giving people an office with an actual plate of glass window overlooking actual greenery. We are searching for nature, & our understanding of how important this is to us underlies some of the anxiety that we feel about natural's loss.

People are drawn to seek out the deeper essence of things; we are curious, & the payoff for learning more is a click of sa
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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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