David M. Friedman's A Mind of Its Own is a cultural examination of the penis, from ancient Sumer to the present. Friedman convincingly suggests that humankind's various and contradictory attitudes toward the penis have been instrumental in mapping the course of both Western civilization and world history.
Friedman begins with pagan attitudes: ancient Greeks considered the penis a measure of a man's proximity to "divine power," while the Romans, whose generals were known to promote soldiers based on penis size, saw it as an indicator of earthly strength. Thanks to the spread of Christianity, the "sacred staff became the demon rod"--a fearful manifestation of the devil. Theology gave way, grudgingly, to science. In the Renaissance, anatomical discoveries allowed for the possibility that this "agent of death" was, in fact, only a "blameless instrument of reproduction." Subsequent chapters discuss the penis's role as a racial yardstick; its "defining role in human personality" as asserted by Freud; its politicization; and finally, through the likes of Viagra, its objectification as a "thing ... impervious to religious teachings, psychological insights, racial stereotypes and feminist criticism."
Friedman's study of what he calls the "symbolic muscle" is filled with fascinating side trips (castration cults, ancient graffiti, the anti-masturbation "semen-retention movement," aphrodisiacs through the ages, and, to modern eyes, risible medical practices with the likes of monkey glands), as well as a rich cast of characters (Leonardo da Vinci, John Kellogg of cornflake fame, Kate Millet, Clarence Thomas, and Walt Whitman). The book is informal, but well researched (and documented), entertaining but not cute, wide-ranging but not sketchy, and simultaneously irreverent and respectful. --H. O'Billovitch
About the Author
F. Gonzalez Crussi is a physician, writer and emeritus professor of pathology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.