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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

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  5,585 ratings  ·  292 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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Average rating 3.89  · 
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Start your review of The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good
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 pleas
Jul 01, 2011 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
22nd book for 2019.

An interesting short book, exploring what is known about the neurobiology of pleasure.

Each chapter acts as a short review of what is known about the neurobiology about a particular behaviour, in particular those that could fall on the addiction/pleasure axis (e.g., drug taking; sex; eating; gambling; exercise; video games; even meditation).

I learnt a lot reading the book, but it's clear once you get outside drug taking, our knowledge of the relevant neural underpinnings of a
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
Ami Iida
May 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: neuroscience
extremely intriguing! essential book and
requiring book
Oct 16, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: cognition, nonfiction
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
Feb 25, 2012 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.
Todd N
Mar 27, 2013 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
Mar 17, 2012 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
Jun 28, 2013 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.
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wasn't sure if this was going to hit or miss. When reading Linden's Accidental Mind, my brain was in a perpetual state of bliss reading about itself. Braingasms one after another. But, then I read his book Touch and didn't like it very much. I bought this with the hope that it would be more like Accidental Mind and less like Touch. It did not disappoint. This book brings forth the best Linden has to offer. All of his wit, humor, and knowledge is imparted to the reader in much the same way it w ...more
Loy Machedo
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Loy Machedo’s Book Review: The Compass of Pleasure by David J. Linden

Ever since I read books on the Human Mind & Human Behavior notably by authors like Jonah Lehrer, Malcom Galdwell, Dan Aierly, Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner and Sam Harris, I have become deeply fascinated with the world of Neuroscience, Cognitive Science and Psychology.

In a Nutshell, what this book is about?
A Scientific explanation to why we are addicted to the following:
1. Sex
2. Unhealthy & Rich Food
3. Exercise
4. Drugs
Dec 26, 2011 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
Jun 28, 2011 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
Jul 31, 2012 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

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
Jun 21, 2011 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
Apr 08, 2012 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.
Catherine Woodman
Aug 26, 2011 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.
Nov 12, 2013 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.
Apr 25, 2012 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 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very fun and accessible tome on neuroscience.
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Having great time reading this book about pleasure and addiction.

The part that our brain releases dopamine to give pleasure called: medial forebrain bundle.

LTP: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-te... ) "Research in the field of addiction medicine has also recently turned its focus to LTP, owing to the hypothesis that drug addiction represents a powerful form of learning and memory. Addiction is a complex neurobehavioral phenomenon involving various parts of the brain, such as the ventral teg
Jul 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: neuroscience
The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good by David J. Linden

"The Compass of Pleasure" is an interesting although uneven book dealing with the science of pleasure. This book deals with a diverse range of experiences of pleasure that activate biochemically defined pleasure circuit in the brain. Award winning author of "The Accidental Mind", neuroscientist and professor, David J. Linden takes the rea
Ed Yong
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
This is a very informative book on pleasure. It lays out the neurological system of pleasure nicely. I learned a lot about pleasure: the similarities and differences between substance addiction (e.g. alcohol) and behavioral addiction (e.g. gambling, gaming); the causes, effects, mitigating methods and mechanism of addiction; the pleasure of donating money, participating in religious rituals, exercising; the overlapping between pain and pleasure etc.

This book covers a lot, which can be a problem.
Sotiris Makrygiannis
What did I learn from this book? That we are victims of our own evolution and pleasure seeking hormones. The chapters on Drugs was extensive, mainly around Dopamine. The chapter around Gambling was not well understood beyond the point of "seeking pleasure from risk taking". The part of Sex was again around dopamine and oxytocin. Now the LLP and all other acronyms reminded me that book "how to create a mind" back then it was hard to follow Ray on his views but now I understood better what he mean ...more
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very good intro to neuroscience of pleasure. There's enough science here to satisfy those who want to learn more, but I think a lot could be skimmed without losing the big ideas. I especially liked the critique of some of more ambitious futurist timelines (i.e. brain controlling nanobots by late 2020s) and description of optogentics ...more
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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

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20 likes · 1 comments
“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.” 6 likes
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