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The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  952 ratings  ·  106 reviews
In The Professor in the Cage (2015), professor Jonathan Gottschall enters the world of mixed martial arts to discover the sources of our fascination with violence. Through the power of modern science and by applying the weight of human history, these blinks reveal how our love of fighting is grounded in our deepest human instincts.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 14th 2015 by Penguin Press
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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Jess C.
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, bjj-mma
I can't even. This book is full of pseudoscience and gender stereotypes. Gottschall takes actual science and facts, relies only on nature arguments, discards nurture arguments, then he takes these facts and submerges them in a mixture of good ol' boys and wanna be a real fighter so bads. For example in one scene his daughter goes inside with his wife and tells him he can't come in and bake cookies (presumably because he is a man). He then waxes on about how men are always on the outside of the f ...more
May 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book was a dried poodle turd. It could've been good, but the guy drones on and on about masculinity and science. I just wanted to hear about your training, bro. If I wanted to read a science book, I wouldn't read one written by an adjunct English comp teacher. I'd read one written by a scientist. See how that works?
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Feb 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Professor, Jonathan Gottschall, asks why men like to fight, and in this book he is talking about fighting for sport, or for fun, not war or other life and death battles. While I don't quite get why men like to box or cage fight, I do get that competition is fun and that it's an extreme form of competition. Not that mysterious. But I am perplexed at the enjoyment seemingly civilized people seem to get from watching others batter each other to a bloody pulp. Although we are in a relatively pea ...more
Apr 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: grey
This is, despite the author's claims, a book about a midlife crisis. But, rather than the tedious routine midlife crisis of divorce, red sports car, and much younger girlfriend, Gottschall (an associate professor in English at a small liberal arts college) decides to take up MMA cage fighting. He's in his late 30's, and claims that deep down he thought it might be a good way to get fired, so that he can move on to something else.

You might conclude from this that Gottschall is kind of a jock, who
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
The premise is strong, unfortunately this book soon devolves into a Jordan Peterson-esque smorgasbord of soft science and half-baked philosophy. I think this idea would've worked better as a long personal essay, because as a full-length book it demands a rigorous approach to the many topics the author glides through. Or perhaps a series of essays as there are many disparate concepts in this book that are barely held together with a shallow thesis of reductive biopolitics Yes, people enjoy violen ...more
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Animals fight; humans fight, too. Women fight; men fight, too. But men are more likely to fight physically and frequently. Some might say men are just asinine in so doing and men ought to be civilized. Jonathan Gotschall, an English professor, argues that men are the way they are owing to many reasons. Better yet, he places himself in the middle of fights to find out why men fight even if death might result. Gottschall had been a wimp, not being able to stand up for himself all his life. He deci ...more
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting read about a world I know nothing about.
Alain Burrese
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“The Professor In The Cage: Why Men Fight And Why We Like To Watch” by Jonathan Gottschall is a fascinating look at fighting and violence through the eyes of a college professor who not only researching fighting and violence, but joined a MMA gym to train and actually enter the arena to fight. It is well written, eye opening, and an enjoyable read for anyone interested in why men fight and why so many enjoy watching.

Gottschall chronicles his own journey, including his apprehensions and fears, as
Joel Nichols
May 23, 2015 rated it did not like it
Bills itself as analysis of make violence but instead is an apology for the same, a repetitive scree about how gender is actually innate (with no evidence btw) and no interrogation of the homophobia he learned during childhood games of smear the queer. There is no scholarship here, just sad, thin memoir. Penguin press and Washington & Jefferson College, his employer, should be ashamed. ...more
Chris Cameron
May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Check out my free summaries at

Elevator Pitch: The Professor in the Cage takes a fascinating look at the historical connection between the civilized violence we express today and it’s origins. If you thought that we are any different from ancient societies you are wrong, we just package it and make it prettier.

Read Time: 5 minutes

Lets begin with this Jonathan Gottschall is hands down one of my favorite storytellers to read. He makes nonfiction and self development feel like a great
Earl Pike
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well researched and very enthralling. Insightful and entertaing. Gottschall spends a lot of time explaining what most conservative, blue collar males already know. so its interesting to see the journey of change he goes through by the end of his book. I really enjoyed the dismantling of martial arts and the subsequent anecdote that follows. All in all, the book, although monotonous at times, was enjoyable and not disagreeable. Give it a read if youre in the mood for male gender study.
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book that explores why men and women fight and if not fighting why we like to watch fighting. Also makes a strong argument that all sports are really borne out of fighting. What I liked so much about the book is that the author intertwines the discussion with his own training for an amateur MMA fight.
Sep 24, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
The best thing I can say about this book is that it had potential. I can enjoy a good book in the pop-science-memoir-crossover genre, his depiction of life in academia is strikingly honest, and the question is compelling: Why do some behaviours – here, men fighting – occur across time and place?

However, what Gottschall ended up with is a case study in how NOT to write a popular science book. Now, Gotschall admits the book is gimmicky, so I won’t complain too much about that. Still, his attempts
Alex & Books
Feb 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
“The Professor In The Cage” is about a professor’s journey into the MMA world as he trains & explores the history of violence. 💥
So why do people fight & why do people like to watch? 🤔
Fighting has been a method of settling disagreements for much of history (men have been dueling with fists, swords, guns for ages). ⚔️
Men fight to protect their honor & status in society. If a man disrespects you & you let it go, you’re seen as a pushover. 👎
People love violence: from books, to horror movies, to
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
As an ageing middle aged man who'd rather be home reading and who has never been in a fistfight, I felt an immediate kinship with this author. One of the more interesting questions he raises is how much of being a "man" is putting yourself at risk for physical confrontation? If you have never been properly kicked, stomped, or punched in the face, are you missing a vital part of something?
This in part what lead the author, a 39 year old literature professor, to start training in mixed martial a
Jul 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
Nothing profound; an armchair anthropological examination of sports as ritualized violence and the centrality of violence in human nature, especially in males. This is demonstrated through the lens of anecdotes of a low level English lit professor preparing for an MMA match. Both have been done before, and the author admits as much. Nevertheless, it's a quick, entertaining, and thought provoking read if you're into that kind of thing.
Alexandre Contreras
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
I started this book hoping to read about the author's experience trying MMA and learning about fighting. Unfortunately, this is only covered briefly in the first and last couple of pages. The book focuses on the history of fighting and why men like it. I was rather disappointed by this, as the basic explanation given is that men have always enjoyed fighting, and women not so much. Still a decent read for MMA fans, but keep expectations low.
Mar 22, 2018 rated it liked it
The anecdotal / science balance was tilted too much in favor of the former. The gender facts will ruffle social constructivist feathers.
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I kind of liked this book. I suppose I am not the only man who daydreams about beating up someone else occasionally. I am not going to say I shouldn't, this just happens for some reason. Gottschall explains, or argues, that all male primates are hardwired to establish their position in the pecking order, and intimidating and even beating up people is the way to go, especially in communities that are not policed. Play fighting between groups or aggressive sports serve an similar purpose: figuring ...more
Olli Lukkari
A 40-year old English professor joins a local MMA-gym (mixed martial arts) and starts training for his debut match. In the mean time he goes on through various studies based on anthropology, psychology, history, cultural studies and (evolutionary) biology on violence and martial arts/sports/ritualized comabt. Gottschall tries to find answers on why we as a species fight, why we like to watch and use violence, what are the sex/gender differences in fighting/competing in sports. An intellectual ta ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is not a fight manual or narration of a fighter's journey. It is an exploration and discussion of why men like to fight, compete, and why we invest so much time, money and energy in competitive pursuits such as combat sports. It discusses the differences between men and woman, how sport is the modern version of ritualised combat/duelling, and how society and culture have changed over time with regards to ritualised combat.

I enjoyed the book a lot. It may not have convinced me on every
Michael Rather Jr.
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anna Faktorovich
May 14, 2016 rated it liked it
This book captivated my attention in the “Preface” when Jonathan Gottschall confessed that he was working as a “lowly adjunct making $16,000 per year teaching composition to freshmen who couldn’t care less” in his late thirties (3). When I saw the blurbs and cover in the catalog, I had assumed that this will be a straight-forward history and sociological study of the phenomenon of humans fighting. When I started reading the “Preface,” I could immediately tell that it was written in the conversat ...more
Ben Detiveaux
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at the darkness within so many men and how it's kept at bay. Gottschall's observations on the fascination men have with violence and their relationship with it (shame, love, disgust) are worth a read.

It falls short of five stars because I feel at times it can drag on. In addition, it feels like there's something missing that I can't quite place. It's good, but it doesn't quite reach great.
May 05, 2015 rated it liked it
I'm someone that has what most people would consider totally insane views regarding sustainability and environmentalism so glorifying and supporting athletes who consume 6,000-8,000 calories per day and a couple hundred grams of protein (enough for several people), who rely on routine surgeries and expensive physical therapies to stay functional, and who make millions of dollars that they spend on sports cars and mansions and shit all because they have the ambition to be the best at something th ...more
Abhi Yerra
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I would say this part memoir, part a social understanding of male violence, and part him making fun of his colleagues because he was an English Adjunct Professor. It was interesting read because it covered some interesting aspects of how violence is transmitted socially but I thought Demonic Males was a better read for that.
Alexander Shkoruta
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Half of the time felt like "duh", quater of the time was entertaining. I would recommend it to people who thinks that "participating in contact sports indulge people's bloodthurst" and "violent behaviour is socially prescribed" but otherwise you can safely skip it. Especially if you boxed, wrestled, etc. as a kid/adult.
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
An entertaining and well-researched look at the roots of masculinity, and how our bizarre forms of modern entertainment serve to keep it alive. For the first time in my life, the appeal of spectator sports makes sense to me. It was a bit slow in places, but the central theme of the book kept tugging forward hard enough to keep most readers engaged.
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Read this for my book group and had a great discussion. I have three sons who like to fight and to watch fighting, which I don't understand. Gottschall gives some ideas and possible explanations that I found very interesting. My daughter listened to the audible book and LOVED the narrator.
Maria Gaasø
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: human-behaviour
An intresting book that cover both behaviour and history linked to MMA and general fighting behaviour in animals.
If you are interested in MMA (and other material arts) or train it, or are a Biologist i would recomend it!
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Jonathan Gottschall is an American literary scholar, the leading younger figure in literature and evolution. He teaches at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. He completed graduate work in English at State University of New York at Binghamton, where he worked under David Sloan Wilson.

His work The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence and the World of Homer describes the Homeric epic poem

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  Justin A. Reynolds burst onto the YA scene last year with his debut book Opposite of Always, a heartfelt novel about love and friendship...
23 likes · 2 comments
“At my local big-box bookstore, the gun nut, muscle head, and martial arts magazines are all shelved together in what I call the “masculine anxiety” section.” 4 likes
“The duel faded away because the culture of honor faded away. And the culture of honor faded away because Leviathan started doing the honor culture’s job. In centuries past, men ferociously defended their honor because they were, in reality, defending their lives, families, and property. But when Leviathan started guaranteeing retaliation for crimes against everyone’s life and property, the deterrent value of personal honor declined, and risking everything over a slight just wasn’t worth it. Leviathan stood up in all its power, allowing individual men to stand down.” 3 likes
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