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Reading time: sex, death and money edition

This edition of reading time comes with a PG rating due to adult content. Holy crap [PG rating is also due to language use] there are some great books out there: here’s three of them.

Histories of Sexuality: Antiquity to Sexual Revolution by Stephen Garton

A random find and thank you Google books! I came across this book while googling another book about women’s sexuality (to check the capitalisation in the title), and between the sexy cover and tantalising opening on Google Books, I was hooked. I nabbed it from the library and roared through it in a week. If you’re hoping for a book about What People Did With Their Bits In Them Days, you’re out of luck: this is a book about sexuality, the social construction. And a bloody good read it is, too. It explores sexual habits and the interaction between society and individuals across Western history, kicking off with Ancient Rome and trotting through early Christian, Renaissance, and Revolutionary Europe; then shifts focus slightly to the post-Freud/Ellis/Kinsey UK and US. I loved it: I learned a lot about each era, but I also learned a lot about social flow overall. The way medicine and science emerged and claimed legitimacy as fields of guidance to people really excited me, and I loved the development in the ways science, medicine, economics and faith influenced social norms, particularly about sexuality. It’s a testament to Garton’s writing that I recognised human similarities across the different eras he explored; it’s that human commonality that makes history so rewarding and rich. I love social histories: turns out I also love sexual histories. The shelf at the library is excitingly full of books on this matter and I can’t wait. Nice work, Garton!

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven Lewitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I liked Freakonomics when I read it a bajillion years ago, so I thought I’d like the sequel too. I did! It’s a fun read: as the subtitle promises, it looks at climate change solutions, a brief history of prostitution (and its modern applications), suicide bombers, and a whole lot of other very now topics, all well articulated through an economist’s perspective. My favourite part was the research into encouraging monkeys to learn value, commerce and trade. The book illuminates what makes people tick and what drives decisions. Decisions that seem weird or irrational are nearly always logical if you can figure out the incentives and rewards people are responding to: the process of figuring out the incentive someone’s working for is a huge step towards compassion and understanding. Are they doing it for material reward? Praise? Some internal parameter dictating what they should or can’t do? It’s an interesting book of case studies figuring out what drives behaviour, with a juicy lesson about how to relate to people at the heart of it, and it’s easy and fun to read, to boot.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

And speaking of easy and fun to read: Mary Roach’s playful and funny reporter-like style is perfect for this topic. The role of human cadavers in our culture is something I’ve overlooked until now, but the blighters are everywhere! Roach touches on anatomy and surgery practice; military and vehicle safety testing; forensic research and training; and organ transplants, among other topics relating to how we value and dispose of our loved ones’ bits. Roach writes in a way that makes the book a speedy read, and in the course of her investigations, asks the kinds of questions I wanted answered. What does a bloated corpse really look and smell like? How does an organ transplant really work? Which body parts decay first? What are our post-living options apart from burial and cremation? Roach balances playfulness with respect while describing the activities the dead get up to, and leaves you with an overall sense of astonished gratitude: who knew the dead gave so much back? Funny, kind and really interesting.

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