03 July 2011

Book Review: Manhood

Mels van Driel is a urologist and sexologist attached to the University Medical Centre in Groningen. He wrote Manhood: The Rise and Fall of the Penis.

I can't fully remember how this ended up in my collection or why I decided to read it. I was under the impression I was going to be getting a concise "history of ideas" about the penis. But actually, this book is a whole lot more. This is book is much more than a history of ideas type philosophical rumination on the epistemology of the penis. Instead, it part that, part ethnographic self-reflection, and part medical manual on the male sexual system.

The book is filled with all sorts of strange and curious facts about urological disorders but also delves into medical history and the socio-political history that informed medical inquiry.

I think the translation could have been a little bit better and the title is funny as a double entendre except that the connotative meaning doesn't line up (no pun intended) with the point of the book as the author himself rightly describes in chapter one: the testicles were the focus of male sex fixations until the 19th century for pretty much everyone.

In one way, I think I was expected the next installment of a book like Susan Bordo's Male Body, but it is nothing of the sort. It's partly an extended men's health magazine article on every conceivable urological problem (did you know the penis can break?) and partly a essay on the history of medical knowledge (in urology).

It's practical orientation makes it an easy read and again, let me stress, I think every man should read the book.

The version I read was a 288 page paperback published by Reaktion Books (January 30, 2010), ISBN-13: 978-1861895424. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com.

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