Sunday, July 05, 2009

History Laid Bare by Richard Zacks

The subtitle -- Love, Sex, and Perversity from the Ancient Etruscans to Warren G. Harding -- describes this book well; it's a collection of historical writings about sex and sexuality from 1400 B.C. to 1921 A.D, edited and with commentary from Zacks. It was published by Harper in 1995; I found my copy in a used bookstore in Charleston last fall, and I've been reading it before bed for the last month or two. (It seems to be out of print at the moment, but nothing is really difficult to find in this Internet era -- not at all like it used to be, the Hornswoggler harrumphed.)

History Laid Bare can be depressing if read straight through; earlier ages were not as enlightened about sex as we like to believe we are, so the selections come, more often than not, from "thou-shalt-not" laws, unpleasant religious leaders and humorless doctors, and are heavily disapproving. (There's a lot of memoirs and letters, as well, which tend to be happier about sex, but there's a lot of negativity in History Laid Bare.) But it is a fine historical survey of an area often neglected, and it collects dozens and dozens of "good parts" from various documents, many of them concerning famous figures. I don't know of any other book that does what History Laid Bare does -- Jack Murninghan's The Naughty Bits has a similar take, but it covers famous fiction -- and it does it well. It's a particularly good book for bathroom or bedside; it's great to dip into now and then.

Listening to: Elizabeth Willis - One
via FoxyTunes

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