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

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  3,317 ratings  ·  220 reviews
Yale psychologist Paul Bloom presents a striking new vision of the pleasures of everyday life.

The thought of sex with a virgin is intensely arousing for many men. The average American spends over four hours a day watching television. Abstract art can sell for millions of dollars. Young children enjoy playing with imaginary friends and can be comforted by security blankets.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 14th 2010 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2010)
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Kate I would say it's not low scientific background, but it is a popular press book, not designed for scientists to use (but rather to enjoy). Also the sci…moreI would say it's not low scientific background, but it is a popular press book, not designed for scientists to use (but rather to enjoy). Also the science he cites really isn't "new." (less)

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Jul 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 10, 2020 rated it liked it
It starts off strong but with each passing chapter, everything feels redundant. Just facts, psychology, and essentialism!
Maryana Pinchuk
Mar 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Stephanie H
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
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this book it. It starts off

Goering was an obsessive art collector and had already plundered much of Europe. But he was a huge fan of Vermeer, and this was the acquisition that he was most proud of.

a forgery, by disapointing Hermann Goering on his deathbed, and then goes on to explain how a collector was able to purchase Napoléon’s penis

it was (severed by the priest who had administered last rites to him.)
before going onto the market.

But really it makes you doubt that objects have any
Mar 18, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Aug 12, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Manal Omar
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2017
Our very motivations and impulses sliced into bits. Why we like what we like is not at all an easy business; and explaining it would have us running in circles. A very interesting and- surprisingly entertaining-book.
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
Daniil Bratchenko
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I chose this book because I was interested in what effects pleasure (or lack of thereof) has on human psychology. Some of my self-experiments include fighting desires (like eating high-carb food) and I was interested in what effect they may have.

While this book did not answer my questions (The Willpower Instinct is much better in that regard), it was very informative and entertaining.

The author explores why we like or don’t like things, people, and experiences. He especially focuses on counter-
Elliot de Vries
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
James Kittredge
Jun 25, 2010 rated it liked it
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
May 12, 2010 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Richard by: NY Times
Shelves: cognition, nonfiction
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!

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Bloom's book is reviewe
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
Jun 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't get as much pleasure from this book as I should have. There's some fascinating research on children, trying to measure their capacities for reasoning/judgment/morality, but that research always plays second fiddle to a bunch of just so stories that draw a lot of conclusions from limited correlation-based data. The book is very readable, but too much of it boils down to "People like things because essentialism."
Nov 12, 2019 added it
Shelves: quarter-2
I got a lot of looks for reading this book but despite its cover its not entirely about sex, in fact, very little of the book revolves around it. As everyone may know, the word pleasure is linked to certain activities however that's not the full extent of the word. Pleasure has to do with getting happiness from anything and everything, and this book explains why we get pleasure from things; both normal and strange.
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved it! Insightful, fascinating and well written!
Pat Harris
Jul 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
I wish I could give this book a "no star" because this author is speaking out of his own prejudice and ideology. He spends too much time "reading into" the intent of other books and exalting Essentialism, the philosophy that we do things because we see something essential in them or are trying to "capture" something from it.

For example, he claims Jesus' words, "This is my body, eat; this is my blood, drink", is proof that Jesus promoted cannibalism! And so does one of my favorite children's boo
Jan 10, 2015 rated it liked it
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 the b
Mar 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
*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
Sharon Miller
Mar 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
Surprisingly lacking in pith, argument, or content. An interesting essay on Essentialism and how humans experience this phenomenon, rather than arguing for the philosophical construct, which was straightforward and reasonable. But that was it. Surely some of the ideas presented are sufficiently questioned in today's increasingly observant and sophisticated world that to throw them out with casual abandon rather than providing any context or argument for or against is a bit shallow? A fluff book, ...more
Angelo Zimbelmann
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 & pain (horror/tragedy,
Apr 06, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Aug 03, 2010 marked it as to-read
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
DeAnna Knippling
Dec 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
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.
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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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