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

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,105 ratings  ·  121 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 3.76  · 
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Reynolds
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? ...more
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
Rossdavidh
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
...more
Brad
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
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
Jay
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
Ietrio
Jan 02, 2022 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
Some intellectual frauds put their government-bestowed titles on the cover: professor, doctor. This guy is so low he needs to put his license in the title.
Edvald
Sep 24, 2019 rated it did not like it
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
...more
Jenn
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
...more
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.
Thomas O'Connor
Sep 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a interesting, exciting, and fun read. Really great amount of information and takes you on a journey of perspectives and given a great amount of context for learning why there is conflict and violence in our society. The good, the bad, and the ugly surrounding why we need it and love it. Being a professional mma fighter myself I found that It was a daring book by a badass colleague!
Chris Cameron
May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Check out my free summaries at camsreads.com

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
...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
Dave
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
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.
jdotpitts
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.
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
...more
Kusaimamekirai
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
...more
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. ...more
Christopher
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.
Shawn
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
This is a really interesting and engaging book. Gottschall intertwines his personal journal into and through amateur MMA with research on evolutional psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history. He explores the history of fighting and violence in human societies and in animals and develops some intriguing theories about why people continue to fight and are drawn to fighting.

The book obviously treads into some contentious (and these days dangerous) waters about gender and culture. I think th
...more
Marc
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
Lindsey
This was an interesting read for me, as I'm sure it was an interesting write foe Gottschall. The basis of the book is exploring why men fight and why we like to watch. Well, simply and numberously out, it's in our nature.

Gottschall specifically goes into why men like to fight, and, at the same time, gets into MMA training to take part in a fight of his own (spoiler-his opponent was half his age, you do the math). He starts with telling the readers about duels; if a man challenged another man, us
...more
Devin
Aug 16, 2021 rated it it was ok
A not-as-good version of McBee's Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man.

There's some interesting nuggets in here about male dynamics (particularly the function of play-fighting in safely establishing dominance heirarchies), but you'll have to wade through heaping dollops of biological determinism to find them. The section on violent entertainment throughout history (public executions, gladiators, etc etc) was fascinating.

But the conclusion falls apart. Gottschall wants to have it both ways
...more
Brooke
Dec 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooked
I listened to this because my spouse, who was a wrestler and still participates in MMA and is an ardent fan, downloaded this one It's not super long, so I thought, "What the heck?" It's good stuff. There's some positions and comments that I didn't agree with and/or thought were a little sexist. If I were writing a lit review, there's a few things I'd cover in "questions for further review," especially in the section about Title IX and women's participation in sports. That said, Gottschall's work ...more
Ellis Hastings
Nov 24, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: trashcan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Luke
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
...more
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.
...more
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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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39 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
“Quick. Don’t think about it. Imagine an English professor in your head. No, a male English professor. What do you see? Tweeds? Elbow patches? A high pale forehead with thinning hair combed over? Eyeglasses with designer frames? Oh God, do you see a cravat? His fingernails are clean and white. His palms are silky and uncalloused. If you grip him by his upper arm, your fingers plunge to the bone. He prefers wine to beer. But when he drinks beer, he favors pretentious microbrews that he sniffs and swirls, while waxing on about oaky hints and lemony essences. You are imagining a man, yes, but one whose masculinity is so refined, so sanded down and smoothed away, that it’s hard to see how it differs from femininity. It has been said that the humanities have been feminized. In English departments, where the demographics of professors and students now skew strongly female, this is literally so. But English departments have also been feminized in spirit. There’s a sense in which if you are a guy who wants to be a literature professor, it’s wise to actively suppress all of the offensive cues that you are actually a guy. Or at least that’s how it has always seemed to me. And I think that’s how it seems to most people. In the public mind, teaching English is about as manly as styling hair.” 2 likes
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