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Editorial Reviews

Paul Bloom is a very down-to-earth guy for a professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale. In How Pleasure Works, his third book about what makes humans do what they do, he explores why we like what we like with clear language and a plethora of humorous examples. Jeremy Johnson gives voice to the book in the straightforward manner common to nonfiction narrations, committing to the scientific gravitas of this study in a way that remains engaging, and ultimately elevating the many funny bits by delivering them with a professional tone. It's not unlike one of the many informational videos seen on The Simpsons that begin with, "Hi, I'm Troy McClure..."

You'll wonder how Johnson avoids cracking up as he relates the evidence Bloom has collected over the years. Among so many delightful morsels of food for thought is the consideration of why people don't want to eat chocolate shaped like a turd, why granny has been sleeping with the same pillow for 86 years, why nobody tips an internationally famous violinist when he plays a free concert in the subway, why your significant other's identical twin isn't sexy, and why people watch movies that make them cry. Regaling us with oh-so-practical psychological information concerning the taboos of cannibalism and incest, Johnson does a terrific job of keeping one foot on the ground as he relates Bloom's amusing take on what makes us tick.

This book is a must-listen for anybody who eats, has sex, wonders what to save when the house burns down, goes to a museum, or has any imagination whatsoever. Bloom's plainspoken inquiry and Johnson's uncomplicated delivery are a winning combination, keeping this terrifically witty look at our everyday lives both easy to follow and engaging from start to finish. It is, as Bloom would say, mental cheesecake. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

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. People slow their cars to look at gory accidents and go to movies that make them cry.

In this fascinating and witty account, Paul Bloom examines the science behind these curious desires, attractions, and tastes, covering everything from the animal instincts of sex and food to the uniquely human taste for art, music, and stories. Drawing on insights from child development, philosophy, neuroscience, and behavioral economics, How Pleasure Works shows how certain universal habits of the human mind explain what we like and why we like it.

©2010 Paul Bloom (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

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  • Overall
  • Roy
  • Beaumont, TX, United States
  • 08-01-10

Everything You Ever Would Want to Know

Paul Bloom has written a wonderfully informative book about pleasure and how it works. A gifted writer and professor of psychology at Yale, Bloom simply tells us everything that might interest us in a pleasing way. He presents his research and that of others in a way that is very inviting and approachable. There are revelations on every page er everyminute or so. I am always looking for books that will fill in gaps in my knowledege and this worked very well. Jeremy Johnson could not improve on the reading of the text. If you take this book up, it will be a sheer pleasure.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Robert
  • Corapeake, New Caledonia
  • 06-15-10

Easy to understand, well read.

Though most of the content isn't new for those exposed to the recent wave of mass market books on cognitive neuroscience, this is the clearest and easiest to understand. Bloom did a terrific job organizing the material and illustrating concepts with good examples. All in all, this is very accessible to the average reader.
Johnson's narration is well-paced and enjoyable.
The credits listed were many, but that's the way it is for academics -- everyone involved in the research deserves acknowledgment. Bloom is essentially a primary source for much of the material, so this understandable.

41 of 46 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Questions Inspired by 'How Pleasure Works'

--How come I did not know about Yale's Paul Bloom and was surprised to come across his beautiful book, How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like?

--When am I going to find the time to watch his Introduction to Psychology Class on the Open Yale Courses site?

--Who else in my learning and technology world is also reading this book, and how can I connect with them to discuss and share ideas?

--Does writing a book like How Pleasure Works that popularizes and synthesizes cutting edge academic research, much of which is done by the author, contribute to the academic career and reputation of the writer as much as a book aimed at a narrow scholarly audience?

--If reading "How Pleasure Works" provides so much pleasure (and I think opportunities for authentic learning), how come popular nonfiction academic books like this one are rarely features on course syllabi?

--What is the factor that determines if a nonfiction book will have an audio version, where other books I'd like to read, are available only in paper or e-book format?

--Where will the next great academic who can write for a popular audience come from and what are the conditions that encourage their development?

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Watched Paul Bloom Recently on TED Talks

I watched Paul Bloom recently on TED Talks and ironically I was in the middle of reading his book, How Pleasure Works. In this TED Talk he touched on many of the same points he covers in the book, with the same penchant for honest scientific assessment and interesting anecdotes.

Bloom advances the idea that essences drive much of human motivation and pleasure. For those science readers on guard for more pseudo-science (for example anything by Jenny McCarthy), Bloom does not imbue the natural world with actual essences but rather claims that humans do imbue natural and artificial things with essences and discusses the natural reasons these tendencies may form.

Overall it is an excellent read by an excellent author and well worth an Audile credit.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Gilbert
  • San Antonio, TX, United States
  • 08-27-10

Fast paced, Entertaininglyenjoyable psychology 101

Interesting read/listen. It's psychology 101 on steriods. Entertaining. I've taught many a psych courses and this was a refreshing refresher. This book was facts on story telling mode. Well worth the credit !!!

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I like that the author used news/current stories to explain the reasons behind certain human behaviors

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Tara
  • Monroe, WA, USA
  • 06-25-10

Definitely recommended!

I really liked this book! Well written ideas, quality narrator, interesting concepts, and overall thought provoking. I recommend this to anyone and everyone, even if you aren't as interested in the topic as I am it's a short enough audio-book to cover quickly.

11 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Entertaining but confined account of pleasure

This book is about pleasure, but equally it is about essentialism. I would even argue that this book is more about essentialism than pleasure (guess the title would not have been as catchy). Essentialism refers to our tendency to look beyond appearances and try and see the essence of things. Is that really the cigar that Freud smoked or is it just an “ordinary” cigar? (It really makes a big difference to us). The central tenet of this book is that we derive pleasure from our beliefs about the essence of things. While this is no doubt true I think it confines the book that pleasure is discussed only within this framework. For instance, I cannot see how essentialism can explain why we feel pleasure when taking cocaine (I think).

To introduce the concept of essentialism, and in extension, pleasure, Paul Bloom sets out with one of the most hilarious anecdotes I’ve heard. Hermann Göring, the commander of Nazi Germany’s air force was not a particularly kind man. One of his better known quotes was “My measures will not be crippled by any bureaucracy. Here I don't have to worry about Justice; my mission is only to destroy and to exterminate; nothing more”. However, apart from destroying and exterminating things Göring was also a passionate arts collector and at one point he bought an expensive Vermeer painting from a dutch painter called Van Megren. After the war Van Megren was accused of selling art to Nazis, but to everyone’s surprise Van Megren showed that the painting was a fake (by drawing another copy). How did Göring react to these news? According to one contemporary account "[Göring] looked as if for the first time he had discovered there was evil in the world.

What is the point of this story? The point is that though it really should not matter to anyone whether a painting is fake if one cannot tell that it is fake, it does. It matter to us a great deal. How we experience something depends on our beliefs. This holds true not only of art but also of music, water, food, wine, t-shirts etc. fMRI scans show that the brain activity of people when they are eating a certain item, differs depending on what they believe they are eating. This suggest that our beliefs about something really do influence our experience at a basic perceptual level. Our brains can process the same sensory input in different ways depending on beliefs. Indeed when tested in a blind test people are unable to distinguish pate from dog food and white wine from red wine.

Paul Bloom goes through many different areas in life from where we drive pleasure. These subjects include but are not limited to sex, alcohol, cannibalism, imagination, watching TV, reading etc. Bloom is a master when it comes to finding illustrative and entertaining examples and anecdotes to drive home his point which consistently seem to be that we get pleasure from what we believe is the essence of things.

As I have already mentioned I would have liked a broader discussion of pleasure. I would also have liked a longer discussion about the concept of pleasure and how it is different from say happiness. This should have been no problem for Bloom because he gives excellent lectures on the topic of happiness at Yale. As I have already hinted at I would also have liked a deeper discussion about the more philosophical aspects surrounding pleasure. Too often Bloom gets lost in admittedly entertaining anecdotes and then forgets to sum up the lessons that can be learned from these anecdotes.

However, overall “How pleasure works” is a good book that is almost certain to give the reader food for thought as well as a good laugh. Bloom is an entertaining writer and speaker (I do recommend his lectures which can be found on Yale’s homepage), and even though I have a BSc in Psychology I learned many things and I got a thorough introduction to essentialism.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Questionably titled, but a good listen

Let's get this straight - this book isn't about how pleasure works. It's about the author's attempt to research and explain 'essentialism,' which itself often seems like an attempt at a sort of Grand Unification Theory for a lot of environmental psych, behavorial economics, moral philosophy, et cetera, all of which are experiencing a bit of a heyday. Often, the book reads like a survey, which isn't bad, just don't expect a deep focus on any one topic. With that caveat, though, it's a good read.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Vidar
  • Cologne, Germany
  • 09-20-10

A waste of time and money

I found the book a collection of opinions and no new scientific insights - if any. Forget neurology, biology; think Liberal Arts, anecdotal evidence, literature and philosophy. To me it was a waste of time with no new knowledge or insights to be had. If you have a very basic level of knowledge and/or education, you may get more out of it - but beware of the opinions vs the science.

The narrator does a decent job and is quite agreeable and understandable. Quite 2x speed compatible.

11 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Linda
  • 01-30-11


I enjoyed this book and found it suprisingly easy to listen to unlike some other non-fiction books.
Unlike another reviewer I didn't find anything wrong with the narrator. Maybe not a silver tongue but definitely better than most university lecturers. I felt like the narrator was talking to me about the subject which is what I was looking for.

  • Overall
  • Chris
  • 11-08-10

Good content. Bad reading.

The content in this book is pretty good and gets better after Paul Bloom stops talking about eating people. However, even the parts that could be entertaining or funny are sucked completely dry by Jeremy Johnson who gave less pizazz than a divorce lawyer. I want to listen to this book again to review the content but I know I will avoid it as the reading just bored me to frustration.