A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis by David M. Friedman

A-Mind-of-Its-Own-Cover

Caidyn – 3/5

Hm. How to rate this book? At times, it was very good. And at times, it wasn’t. Usually at the same time, as odd as that sounds.

It’s a very informative book. It starts in the BCE and makes its way through to modern times. A whole scope, or as much as one can over in an overview of the history of the penis. There are many things that Friedman left out, I’m sure. Otherwise, this would have been a six-volume book rather than six chapters.

So, this was good. Informative, accessible, easy to understand. Hallmarks of a well-done nonfiction book that’s marketed to the general population. This isn’t one for academics alone. Anyone can understand it if they open the book and go ahead and give it a try.

However — and I’m sure anyone reading this expected this — it wasn’t great. What this book needed, for all the nice things I said about it, is a damn good editor.

For one, the chapters are far too long. Almost all of them top out at 50+ pages per chapter. If it’s not a textbook or a properly literary novel, those chapters are far too long for a book meant for the general public. I can’t think of anyone who just picked this book up for a bit of light reading would stick with something this long chapter-wise. So, there’s one thing.

Not only that, but the chapters are way too rambly. They start at one point, then they go to another that’s loosely connected to the first. And then off to another topic. And another. And another. Because the chapters are too long. A good editor would have shortened the chapters, then also split up the chapters into briefer topics.

There were more than a few things wrong besides chapter length and the issues with staying on topic. The other thing was with having no introduction or conclusion. Any good nonfiction book has a point to it, one that’s made and summed up in those. It establishes the credibility of the author, then lets me know the thesis of the whole thing. It’s pointless to have something without a thesis statement, and this book completely lacked any sort of focus, starting with not having an introduction.

A good editor, in my opinion, would have done one of a few things.

1) Had Friedman add an introduction and conclusion to it, then probably made little mini-thesis statements for each chapter so I knew what to expect. That’s just Nonfiction 101.

2) Don’t add those things, but shorten the chapters down. Keep all of the topics, but make it so they’re like mini-essays. You know, keep it focused and like a small essay on a specific topic.

3) Not jump around in the chapters. Again, keep the different topics and how they spaced out, but actually make it so it was time specific. One chapter on BCE times. Another on the Middle Ages specifically. Another on the 1900s. I mean, talk about all the conflicting viewpoints that were going on at the same time, not just focus on specific things and I have to make the connections that happened about 100 pages ago with the huge length of chapters.

So, to sum my thoughts up, a good and interesting book, but it needed some work to tighten it up before being published.

Chantel – 3/5

I added a star for the interesting topic alone.

Overall, I found the topic interesting but it was really the formatting of the book itself I had a problem with. The chapters were far too long, over fifty pages each, when they could’ve been condensed to smaller chapters that were easier to digest.

There was also a lack of citations. There were statements in the book that stood out, just a few, without citations that made me question their validity. That’s just something to be aware of when making such statements. Even if it might be statistically true, a citation where I could go look up that article or study would make me doubt it less.

There were some horrific things in this book and some really interesting things. Starting at the beginning of history to modern day is a huge amount of time to cover and I think this was a good overview, but when it comes to specifics a book could’ve been written on every chapter in this book. I found that the earlier chapters where he explored the earlier moments in history were far more interesting than his exploration of modern history.

I do think that books about men are important to feminism and gender equality as a whole, but I would’ve preferred something that was better structured. Really, it was hard to get past that.

Discussion

In a world that is largely patriarchal, men get overlooked in writing about specific history. All history books tend to focus on the conquests of different men, women being tacked on as a side topic to explore for perhaps a paragraph unless a woman was linked to a famous man. However, books don’t typically feature cultural conceptions of the penis. Many books have been written about vaginas, from histories to politics to cultural studies. Penises have contributed much the world, good and bad, and usually when they’re attached to a specific person. However, is this the best book to tackle such an expansive topic? No. A deep lack of editing, focus, and credibility mars the book from our perspective, no matter how much of an important topic penises are to feminism and gender equality.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is the penis viewed in the modern day, and how does this change depending on what race/ethnicity you are?
  • Are we more divided as a gender now or were we more divided before?
  • Will we ever get to a point where gender and genitalia do not define us?
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