James Kittredge's Reviews > How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like

How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom
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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, but I think I'm stuck in a feedback loop.

Bloom's examples range from the simply interesting (Discussions of how we 'essentialise' objects such as art or sports memorabilia) to the lurid (What have some people become cannibals? Why are people excited by sexual fetishes?) These illustrations are fun to read about/listen to, and the author's writing style is academic, while also being appropriately humorous (and often tongue-in-cheek). Finally, I appreciated the time he spent discussing the evolutionary advantages and history of many human behaviors (from musical expression to dating behaviors). As a non-scientist, I was fascinated.

By the same token, many of his inferences and observations are just plain obvious. For example, who knew that we tend to like things with which we are familiar?! Did you also ever imagine in a million years that you may be at least initially reluctant to eat chocolate shaped like dog feces, because it reminds you of actual dog feces? Sometimes, it just felt like Bloom was spinning his wheels and trying to pad out a book that could have easily been a bit shorter.

All that said, I still liked the book, even if there were plenty of 'DUH' moments, and even if the one note thesis about essentialism started to sound like the proverbial broken record. It was well researched, colorfully written, interdisciplinary, and entertaining. I just think that I might need to switch the genres of nonfiction I read/listen to for a while.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 24, 2010 – Finished Reading
June 25, 2010 – Shelved

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