The first chapter of David M. Friedman’s book “A mind of its own: a cultural history of the penis” explains why it is so awkward to write a book review for it. According to St. Augustine the most evil thing a person, make that a person in “western civilization”, could have is a penis. Well, except for a vagina, unless your name is Mary and God himself certifies you a virgin. How do you write about, even speak of, the physical representation of original sin?
Somehow Friedman managed to write a very interesting book on the subject without suffering from mortal embarrassment or being struck by lightning. In the book he covers many topics, the cultural origins of circumcision, the practice of castration to preserve a singer’s voice, full frontal castration as practiced in some religious orders to preserve their members “purity” The substitutes that female members of those orders suffered are every bit as perverse. The perceived differences in human male’s endowments based on their ancestors continent of origin is discussed in the chapter“The Measuring Stick”. In “The Cigar” Sigmund Freud’s fixation on humanities fixation with having and or losing external genitalia are examined.
The book does present a predominantly male perspective of the topic but that is not its biggest weakness. Given what western civilization has been for the last two millennia I doubt you can find any topic where the predominance of written opinion is not from a male perspective. In chapter five, “The Battering Ram” women’s opinions and evolutionary biology take center stage.
The last chapter, “The Puncture Proof Balloon” looks at the long history of medical interventions to keep men’s little friends fully functioning. Some were particularly gruesome such as grafting sections of various large mammals testicles to a humans testicle. Only in the last few decades has there been real medicinal solutions to “ED”, erectile dysfunction, first injections into the base of the failing member, then a very well-known pill.
Overall the book was extremely interesting. It did have one major failure. I am almost certain that the penis is found worldwide but the book only looked at “the West’s” cultural confusions. What about the rest of the world, China, the Middle East, Mongolia, Africa, the pre-Columbian Americas, and India? Is the culture that wrote the book on sex as socially dysfunctional over the penis as we are? Are any of them?