Sex and Punishment

Sex and Punishment


By (author) Eric Berkowitz

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  • Publisher: COUNTERPOINT
  • Format: Hardback | 456 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 231mm x 38mm | 748g
  • Publication date: 8 May 2012
  • Publication City/Country: Berkeley
  • ISBN 10: 1582437963
  • ISBN 13: 9781582437965
  • Sales rank: 184,807

Product description

The "raging frenzy" of the sex drive, to use Plato's phrase, has always defied control. However, that's not to say that the Sumerians, Victorians, and every civilization in between and beyond have not tried, wielding their most formidable weapon: the law. At any given point in time, some forms of sex were condoned while others were punished mercilessly. Jump forward or backward a century or two (and often far less than that), and the harmless fun of one time period becomes the gravest crime in another. "Judging Desire" tells the story of the struggle throughout the millennia to regulate the most powerful engine of human behavior. Writer and lawyer Eric Berkowitz uses flesh-and-blood cases--much flesh and even more blood--to evoke the entire sweep of Western sex law, from the savage impalement of an Ancient Mesopotamian adulteress to the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in 1895 for "gross indecency." The cast of "Judging Desire" is as varied as the forms taken by human desire itself: royal mistresses, gay charioteers, medieval transvestites, lonely goat-lovers, prostitutes of all stripes, London rent boys. Each of them had forbidden sex, and each was judged--and justice, as Berkowitz shows, rarely had much to do with it. With the light touch of a natural storyteller, Berkowitz spins these tales and more, going behind closed doors to reveal the essential history of human desire.

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Author information

Eric Berkowitz is a writer, lawyer and journalist. He has a degree in print journalism from University of Southern California and has published in "The Los Angeles Times" and "The Los Angeles Weekly," and for the "Associated Press." He was an editor of the West Coast's premier daily legal publication, "The Los Angeles Daily Journal." He lives in San Francisco.

Review quote

Praise for "Sex and Punishment" "Enormously informative and entertaining...There may be no better lens through which to understand how a particular culture sees itself than its laws pertaining to sex [and] Berkowitz has a keen eye for ridiculous laws and a historian's grasp of the meaning behind them... [The book] cries out for a sequel."--"Boston Globe" "[An] extraordinary book... I don't think I've ever read such an entertaining historical work. It has the wisdom granted by perspective, without the condescension of someone who thinks we're wiser than our ancestors. Whether you want to fuel your indignation, or simply furnish yourself with enough jaw-dropping data to galvanize a hundred party conversations, you really must shell out for this book. It's worth every penny."--"The Guardian" ""Sex and Punishment" is an illuminating and deftly told account of the two urges that have done so much to define civilization: humanity's appetite for sex and its concern to regulate the consequences. As Eric Berkowitz shows, both impulses have been in flux for centuries, and his colorful history serves as a timely reminder of just how arbitrary--and ludicrous--the moral certainties of one era can appear to the next." --Sadakat Kadri, author of "The Trial: A History, from Socrates to O. J. Simpson" "Very interesting, very enlightening, very well written, and very timely; "Sex and Punishment" performs an important service in narrating the pre-twentieth-century history of sexual mores and regulation to a nonspecialist audience." --Richard Posner, Judge, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and Professor at the University of Chicago Law School "Berkowitz describes the real stories of medieval cross-dressers, London's rent boys, gay charioteers, and a whole lot of people who were judged for their forbidden sex. The book makes for an excellent, fascinating, and provocative read about carnal desire and what lengths humankind will go to fulfill and control