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The East, the West, and Sex: A History

2.96  ·  Rating details ·  141 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
In this wide-ranging history, Richard Bernstein explores the connection between sex and power as it has played out between Eastern cultures and the Western explorers, merchants, and conquerors who have visited them. This illuminating book describes the historical and ongoing encounter between these travelers and the morally ambiguous opportunities they found in foreign lan ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published July 27th 2010 by Vintage (first published June 2nd 2009)
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Oct 04, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 09, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Can't believe it took me so long to post this review. Here goes:

I impulsively bought a copy of Richard Bernstein’s The East, The West and Sex at Elliot Bay recently, finished it in a state of moderate dissatisfaction, and started in on my next impulse purchase, Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. I’m almost finished reading about the Mongols and it’s helped me figure out how to express my low opinion of TETWS.

I should say why I bought the book in the first place.
I'm only about halfway through this book, and what I thought would be an investigation of the social and cultural conditions that have resulted in the white male's lust for Asian women has, while fulfilling that criteria to some degree, has turned out to be more of a justification than anything else. "Hey, bro, this is why it's like this, but it's soooo sweet, dude! Check it out, man!"


Not enough actual investigation of the past; more of a justification.
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part autobiography, part history, journalist Richard Bernstein writes an almost poignant account of the multiple perspectives of erotic life for men and women in the East and in the West. Not only is the history quite interesting but the transformation in the minds of men and women over time is psychologically fascinating. It could be a dry book for those uninterested in the topic, but for those interested in world history it is downright astounding what the mind is capable of. For those interes ...more
Aug 08, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Creepy justification I would have never picked up this book except the author, Richard Bernstein, got into a tiff with his former employer, 'The New York Times,' over a feature piece the NYT published on nail salons. An investigative report spanning over several months had the NYT look at the conditions and pay for nail salons in the city. It was fairly eye-opening, and showed people what it was like for recent female (I don't think they had a male employee interviewed, I don't know if nail salo ...more
Sep 15, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sex, non-fiction, 2010
The East, the West, and Sex: a history of erotic encounters had great potential (with such a sexy subject) but ended up being a disappointment. Its main thesis is hardly new: the West (mainly Europe and later America) has a sexual culture based on Christian notions of sin and monogamy whereas the East (taken by the author to include North Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast and East Asia) cultivated 'harem culture.' When the two intermingle, this has allowed Western men t ...more
Jen Well-Steered
What I liked about it: I lived in Japan for 3 years as an English teacher, and spent most of my vacation days in the rest of Asia, and from my own observation, a lot of this book still rings true. A lot of the men ended up with Japanese girlfriends, and quite a few with Japanese wives. Others preferred the smorgasbord approach, bragging about all the women in our prefecture they'd slept with, whether paid or volunteers. I won't say that no women found local boyfriends or even husbands, but the n ...more
Sep 24, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
How can a book about sex be so boring? The premise is that historically, Caucasians have tromped about the globe in their heavy imperialistic boots exploiting women everywhere and under every circumstance. I have no doubt this is true, and examples abound in this book, as well as in art and literature through the ages. It is an unfortunate and cruel extension of the old adage: "to the victor belong the spoils."

However, and this does not excuse anyone's bad behavior, I think it is less the resul
Sep 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, asia, africa
I'm going to go against the grain here and give this book four stars. Yes, it rambles, yes, it is sometimes repetitive, and I do not agree with a lot of the authors opinions, which he tries to keep in check most of the time but are fairly evident. However, it corresponded to my expectations. I picked it up after living in Asia and feeling disgusted and intrigued with the free for all lifestyle so many men, foreign and local, lived there. Sure, there are cheating men everywhere but there was a re ...more
Jul 17, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: smarty-academia
This is a fascinating look at some of the history of the East and the West's interactions, focused on the realm of sex. The history of the harem (and the West's perception of the harem), prostitution then and now, the concept of the tragic Asian pining woman, it's all in there. I wish the book had been a little more clearly structured - although always engaging, it tends to ramble from one thing to another, slightly randomly, chapter to chapter - and it does suffer from an author who is very cle ...more
Oct 21, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
Richard Bernstein decides to investigate the West's interest and eroticization of the East. I liked some of the historical research that he did, and could see some of his points, but I also found that I disagreed with some of the points he made. Then again, I'm a mixed race female who has read a lot about Asia and has spent some time there. This was a decent read, but I definitely enjoyed Sheridan Prasso's "The Asian mystique" more, and found that book to be a little less sexist.

I did find that
Matthew Green
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
At many points, this is a fascinating book. Bernstein does a good job discussing the approximately 500-year documented history of sexual relations between Western (i.e., American and European) men and Asian women. At times some of the historical anecdotes were simply uninteresting to me, however, there are plenty of captivating insights about the Vietnam War, Mao Zedong, and modern day China and Southeast Asia to more than make up for it. He also considers the moral implications of these sexual ...more
Mar 03, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Journalists have no business attempting histories of sexualities. This book is full of ahistorical generalizations that are, for anyone familiar with sexuality studies in Early Modern Europe, utterly laughable. What's more, Bernstein never once uses the term "orientalism" though his book is clearly informed by the field. While an easy read (though at times Bernstein feels very much like a modern "orientalist", in the negative sense of the term), the only thing this book has going for it are the ...more
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The author is evidently well-read and possessed of an intimate knowledge of his subject. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have had enough content to fill a book. This really should've been an article, as the last 4/5 of the book contain little more than superfluous examples to prove Bernstein's (not particularly ambitious) point that the East was a sexual playground for European men during the colonial era and that the different cultural perspective of the East (and here Bernstein paints with r ...more
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I would say this book "elucidates the powerful erotic hold that the East has"...for the author. Extremely irritating. Various encounters between Western men and Eastern women throughout history are recounted and summed up with, 'so, okay, maybe those women who were set aside as a separate class destined to serve male pleasure may not have had a lot of choice, but look how much fun it was for the men!'

The 2nd star is earned only because I did learn a bit of history of early European travels in t
This book was not salacious thought the title would make one think otherwise. This was more historical thinkpiece paralleling the money and wealth and relaxed sexual mores (seemingly) in the East/India/Turkey etc as it follows the travels and events all the up to war in Vietnam and the different expectations of men and sex as it relates to the East versus West dichotomy
Jul 01, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book should have been an brief essay. It was boring after the first 3rd I thought, and I had a really hard time sticking with the 50% that I did read...felt like a text book which is such a shame since I was excited about the possible history within the topic.

I'm moving on...
Dec 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
how white man turned Asia to white man Brothel . American GI did in Vietnam"It's like a kid in a candy shop: you just walk in and you can eat anything you want". The Whole world as the white man's Brothel.
I am still trying to slug my way through it but it is an incredibly boring book and the author is patronizing. I would recommend 'sex at dawn' instead.

Updated: I gave up on it after the 2nd chapter.
Oct 14, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Disgusting book. Completely glosses over the experiences of women and how colonization and imperialism has condoned rape and torture and murder. This book has the nerve to justify exploitation, and it's infuriating.
Joel Lantz
The author found everything that is exciting and interesting about sexual relations and left it out of the book.
Jun 05, 2010 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at the culture of sexual trade b/w East & West: a little bit Edward Said and a little bit Marquis de Sade.
Charlotte Myers
Interesting history... not super feminist, left many questions to be answered regarding agency of sex workers in Asia, throughout history and today.
Gmendra Lau
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So much history! Haha it's just like my high school history textbook love it. The rating on the site is low because people expect it to be something exotic.
Sep 09, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Boring. Didn't get past the second chapter. Repetitive about the rather obvious main point of the book.
Sep 13, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
boring :(
Lau Hoon
rated it liked it
Apr 09, 2013
rated it liked it
Jan 25, 2015
rated it liked it
Jul 09, 2016
rated it it was amazing
Mar 29, 2013
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Growing up in the small town of East Haddam, Connecticut, RICHARD BERNSTEIN always dreamed of seeing the world, and after he finished university he figured a great way to do that would be to become a newspaper reporter. So he became a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine and then the New York Times, which sent him all expenses paid!) to lots of countries, including Hong Kong, China, Thailand, I ...more
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