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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
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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

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  2,133 ratings  ·  176 reviews
A leading brain scientist's look at the neurobiology of pleasure-and how pleasures can become addictions.

Whether eating, taking drugs, engaging in sex, or doing good deeds, the pursuit of pleasure is a central drive of the human animal. In The Compass of Pleasure Johns Hopkins neuroscientist David J. Linden explains how pleasure affects us at the most fundamental level:...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published April 14th 2011 by Viking Adult (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...more
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
Recommended to Richard by:
Shelves: cognition, nonfiction
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 Pleasure...more
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 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.
Jan 19, 2013 Jacopo rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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...more
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...more
Todd Nemet
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...more
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...more
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...more

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...more
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
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...more
Aaron Ferguson
While chock full of scientific jargon, I have to disagree with the book's assumption that addictions are diseases (a hypothesis at best) and it's "neurocentric" approach to treating addictions. The idea that some drugs are inherently more addictive than others holds scant credibility in light of the countless societal factors involved in a person becoming addicted. A medicalized view of addiction to illegal substances has done little to nothing over the last two centuries in the way of reducing...more
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.
Catherine Woodman
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.
Steele Dimmock
This book does what it says on the tin - it breaks down and explains the mechanisms that compel so may of our life activities which are directed towards the pursuit of pleasure.
Where David discusses pleasures addictive qualities are quite harrowing. He clearly and scientifically explains how all consuming some pleasures can be for the mind, how difficult it is to abstain from a highly pleasurable activity, and how easy it is to relapse through any kind of trigger, be it stress, smell, sight, or...more
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.
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.
An enjoyable explanation of our current understanding of the biological and chemical mechanics of how pleasure works in humans and other animals. When he told the stories of lab rats with probes implanted directly into the pleasure centers of their brains to deliver electrical stimulation on demand, I couldn't decide whether to pity or envy the rats. Sure their lives were short, but some of them experienced levels of pleasure few humans will ever know. It gets a bit technical in places, but ther...more
A very fun and accessible tome on neuroscience.
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
It took me a long time to finish this book. I admit, I was able to set it aside and then come back to it since there was not a plot to follow. The brain's function is intriguing, and the author explains neurophysiology well, considering the complexity of the subject. Still, it's not light reading for a layperson. There is a fairly detailed explanation of the brain regions that control pleasure. Certain brain structures and neurotransmitters are responsible for our sensations of pleasure in respo...more
David J. Linden examines the nature of addiction by concentrating on substances that have been historically accepted as addictive, such as alcohol, nicotine, drugs, along with disputable addictions such as sex, overspending, among others. Linden’s main reason for examining such addictions, arguably, lies in his desire to show the complex nature of these addictions and how they interact with one’s brain chemistry in order to create addiction. With the use of scientific research, Linden clearly sh...more
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...more
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 “...more
As the British addiction expert Griffith Edwards says, "A lot of what drugs do to the mind is in the mind."


Addiction is not just a disease of weak-willed losers. Indeed, many of our most important historical figures have been drug addicts - not only the creative, arty types like Charles Baudelaire (hashish and opium) and Aldous Huxley (alcohol, mescaline, LSD), but also scientists like Sigmund Freud (cocaine) and hard-charging military leaders and heads of state from Alexander the Great (a mas...more
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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
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“Clearly, Siberian reindeer are not fighting over drugged urine for its nutrative value.” 5 likes
“Male Amazon river dolphins will even insert thier penises in each other's blowholes in the only known example of nasal sex.*

*I refuse to make the obligatory "blowjob" joke here. Science writing is very serious business.”
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