Manhood: The Rise and Fall of the Penis

This vastly entertaining, eclectic book, written by a Dutch urologist, is full of myths, lore, natural history and medical information about the male nether regions. Full, ahem, disclosure: it may not feel like the world's most comfortable subway reading, or even the sort of thing one would wish to plow though before bed. Rich with various black and white photos of deformations to said nether regions, it is not, shall we say, a very sexy book.


However, it is an interesting grab-bag of knowledge about this culturally, socially, and sexually important  (and yes, sometimes impotent) organ across time and culture. It is even informative across species: this reader had never known that the long corkscrew penis of the Argentine duck, at 43 cm, is longer than the duck itself. Nor had she considered that the stickiness of sperm is an evolutionary adaptation by male animals to seal off the wombs of the females with whom they have mated. Such wisdom is only the beginning: it is fascinating, if also a bit disturbing, to learn the history of reproductive science: In the mid seventeenth century, Dutch scientists cut open a recently murdered (and presumably raped) prostitute, and later a murdered wife, in order to prove that sperm indeed went into the uterus, presumably (as was then thought) as "homunculi." (Women, presumably, were merely vessels for nurturing these miniature, though fully formed male creations.) One can take a bit of revenge on those Dutch scientists: what of the idea that the testes themselves, outside their sac, are nothing but a fine mesh of tubules that dissolve completely into something akin to silly string?


Not all observations are so grisly. Many are funny, some are simply informative. Together, they offer compassionate, if occasionally scattered, account of the long human struggle to understand -- and to celebrate --  the sometimes baffling workings of men and their malest members.



July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).