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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

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,182 Ratings  ·  202 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:
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published April 14th 2011 by Viking (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.
Mar 29, 2012 Stacey rated it liked it
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, 2015 Richard marked it as to-read-3rd
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 26, 2012 Melody rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 19, 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
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
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
Todd Nemet
Mar 27, 2013 Todd Nemet rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 03, 2011 Christine rated it liked it
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
Dec 26, 2011 cat rated it liked it
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

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
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
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
Jan 05, 2015 Jennyb rated it liked it
This book covers some very interesting material, but short as it was, it seemed to drag on at times. I think that has more to do with my not really understanding some of the scientific explanations covered rather than due to any shortcomings of the book itself. In fact, Linden has a great colloquial voice as a writer, which considerably livens up some of the more dry and technical material he covers. He gives detailed explanations of the science -- simplifying it immensely for non-scientific typ ...more
Christina Boyle
Dec 28, 2014 Christina Boyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mind-body-spirit
This is a layperson's explanation of addiction in all of its variations. Basically addition is moving up the setpoint for satiety in the pursuit of pleasure and it's all neurochemical. Once you become accustomed to it the impact of the attainment of pleasure, it becomes increasingly blunted over time so you demand more and more to feel the impact (akin to chili pepper).

What's amazing is that some of the most common of vices are being engineered to create addiction by Fortune 500 firms, those wh
Aaron Ferguson
Aug 07, 2014 Aaron Ferguson rated it it was ok
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
Apr 14, 2012 dejah_thoris rated it it was ok
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.
Alex Athanassakos
May 16, 2015 Alex Athanassakos rated it really liked it
A very interesting book that strikes a good balance between scientific jargon and plain English. Although I find some sections to be a bit unnecessarily technical and replete with acronyms and technical jargon, these sections last only for about half a page and can be skipped over without losing continuity.

There is a plethora of interesting information about addiction and about the role of our pleasure circuit - some of it we have known for centuries, some of it is new. This is an exciting area
Catherine Woodman
Aug 26, 2011 Catherine Woodman rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 02, 2014 Ryan rated it it was amazing
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.
Steele Dimmock
Jan 26, 2014 Steele Dimmock rated it really liked it
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
Stu Minnis
Mar 07, 2015 Stu Minnis rated it liked it
Shelves: science
I read a lot of science for a general audience, and the best of it manages to both explain difficult ideas in an approachable way and also to give the reader a compelling narrative to frame the science. The Compass of Pleasure misses on both points. The writing is a bit turgid, though I suspect this may be a by-product of the subject: nearly all the neuroscience I've encountered has this problem to varying degrees. Also, the book feels disjointed. We gat a laundry list of subjects covered chapte ...more
Jun 28, 2013 Karen rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 20, 2016 David rated it really liked it
A large part of this book is a survey of current knowledge of pleasure and the brain, and all the implications of that pairing. Certainly this will not be a timeless book as our understand is constantly improving and evolving as we do better experiments. Some important understandings coming from this book include the true scale of the FMRI, which is averaging the activity of a great number of neurons as we lack better refinement. He does describe some interesting and highly unethical experiments ...more
Feb 11, 2013 Lene rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 27, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ami Iida
May 19, 2015 Ami Iida rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: neuroscience
Shelves: neuroscience
extremely intriguing! essential book and
requiring book
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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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