10 books like The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1

By Michel Foucault,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Freudian Repression

By Michael Billig,

Book cover of Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious

Sigmund Freud tends to be lampooned these days as a cartoonish patriarch, but psychoanalysis is one of the few genuinely insightful theories that tries to understand why people frequently do things they can’t explain, don’t understand, or don’t even want to do. Social psychologist Michael Billig’s book starts out by noting that Freud considered his greatest discovery to be not the unconscious (as most people think), but repression – the series of activities that produce the unconscious. The book is a clearly-written, practical exploration of how repression is accomplished in day-to-day life. An example: “Each time adults tell a child how to speak politely, they are indicating how to speak rudely”. Think about that.

Freudian Repression

By Michael Billig,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freudian Repression as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Freudian Repression, Michael Billig presents an original reformulation of Freud's concept of repression, showing that in his theory of the unconscious he fails to examine how people actually repress shameful thoughts. Drawing on recent insights from discursive psychology, Billig suggests that in learning to speak we also learn what not to say: language is thus both expressive and repressive. He applies this perspective to some of Freud's classic case histories such as 'Dora' and the 'Rat Man' and the great psychologist's own life to show the importance of small words in speech. By focusing on previously overlooked exchanges, even…


Beauvoir in Time

By Meryl Altman,

Book cover of Beauvoir in Time

This recently published excavation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is almost as thick as Beauvoir’s massive tract, but don’t let that put you off. The photo of Beauvoir on the cover conveys an insouciant “Yeah, sure” attitude, and Meryl Atman uncannily channels that sentiment into a dazzlingly authoritative and entertaining discussion of why the overwhelming majority of the criticism of Beauvoir’s famous tome happens to be misguided and wrong. The book is about gender, race, sexuality, class, and privilege, but it isn’t a polemic. It is an exercise in critical reading at its most invigorating.

Beauvoir in Time

By Meryl Altman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beauvoir in Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beauvoir in Time situates Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex in the historical context of its writing and in later contexts of its international reception, from then till now. The book takes up three aspects of Beauvoir's work more recent feminists find embarrassing: "bad sex," "dated" views about lesbians, and intersections with race and class. Through close reading of Beauvoir's writing in many genres, alongside contemporaneous discourses (good and bad novels in French and English, outmoded psychoanalytic and sexological authorities, ethnographic surrealism, the writing of Richard Wright and Franz Fanon), and in light of her travels to the U.S. and…


Playing in the Dark

By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

This slim volume by Toni Morrison is a spare, elegant meditation on how what is absent – from view, from awareness, from narrative (in this case, what she calls the “Africanist presence” in the literary imagination) – exerts a structuring influence on what is present. The prose is characteristically beautiful, but what keeps me coming back to this book is the luminous tenor of Morrison’s engagement with literature that many people find objectionable and even racist. Rather than dismiss, condemn, and cancel, Morrison wants to understand, engage, and gain insight. “My project arises from delight, not disappointment”, she says, and that truly shows.

Playing in the Dark

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Playing in the Dark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison brings the genius of a master writer to this personal inquiry into the significance of African-Americans in the American literary imagination. Her goal, she states at the outset, is to "put forth an argument for extending the study of American literature...draw a map, so to speak, of a critical geography and use that map to open as much space for discovery, intellectual adventure, and close exploration as did the original charting of the New World-without the mandate for conquest."

Author of Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and other vivid portrayals of black American…


How to Be Gay

By David M. Halperin,

Book cover of How to Be Gay

As befitting the cheeky title, this book – about what it means to be, and to become, a gay man – is incisive, erudite, and a lot of fun to read. A pioneer of queer theory (and with this intervention, I suspect, a renegade from it), David Halperin is an unapologetic camp. He challenges received wisdom about how gay sensibility supposedly is misogynist, passé, irrelevant or dead, and his reflections on everything from Joan Crawford’s pizazz, to the current state of gay marriage, vacillate between being capacious and withering. “Sometimes I think homosexuality is wasted on gay people” he sniffs at one point, dispensing a delightful, and typically barbed, aperçu.

How to Be Gay

By David M. Halperin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Be Gay as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No one raises an eyebrow if you suggest that a guy who arranges his furniture just so, rolls his eyes in exaggerated disbelief, likes techno music or show tunes, and knows all of Bette Davis's best lines by heart might, just possibly, be gay. But if you assert that male homosexuality is a cultural practice, expressive of a unique subjectivity and a distinctive relation to mainstream society, people will immediately protest. Such an idea, they will say, is just a stereotype-ridiculously simplistic, politically irresponsible, and morally suspect. The world acknowledges gay male culture as a fact but denies it as…


The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2

By Michel Foucault,

Book cover of The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure

Michel Foucault had a variety of interests and wrote about many different topics – ecology and limits to growth were definitely not among them. I have found this book super useful though in thinking about what I call self-limitation, the processes through which individuals and collectives voluntarily craft the limits of their action and their power. Foucault’s book analyses how ancient Greeks perceived sexuality, and how they managed their bodies and desires. For the Greeks mastery over one’s wants was seen as key to personal freedom and development. Sexual freedom was part and parcel of the self-regulation of sexual desire. I can´t say I understand everything Foucault writes, but this is definitely one of his clearest books, with a more American style short prose than his previous labyrythical French writing. Reading about a civilization that was so similar, but also so different from ours, and how it regulated without suppressing…

The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2

By Michel Foucault,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this sequel to The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, the brilliantly original French thinker who died in 1984 gives an analysis of how the ancient Greeks perceived sexuality.

Throughout The Use of Pleasure Foucault analyzes an irresistible array of ancient Greek texts on eroticism as he tries to answer basic questions: How in the West did sexual experience become a moral issue? And why were other appetites of the body, such as hunger, and collective concerns, such as civic duty, not subjected to the numberless rules and regulations and judgments that have defined, if not confined, sexual…


Tropic of Cancer

By Henry Miller,

Book cover of Tropic of Cancer

I read Tropic of Cancer at the beginning of my writing career, soon after I’d begun living on my own for the first time. Miller’s life as a Brooklyn boy in Paris, struggling to survive and to write, seemed similar in so many ways to my own life in Manhattan. I’ve since read Tropic of Cancer multiple times and have portions memorized. I went through a phase where everything I wrote came out sounding like Henry Miller—that’s how taken I was by his voice. Miller taught me that it’s possible to write a great book that’s voice-driven rather than plot-driven.

Tropic of Cancer

By Henry Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tropic of Cancer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Been There, Done That

By Rachel Feltman,

Book cover of Been There, Done That: A Rousing History of Sex

Why are there so many sex books on my peculiar list? Because sex is one of those subjects we often ignore or treat as taboo—despite it being around since, well, according to Feltman, a particularly amorous pre-historic ameba-like critter. This book also appeals to me because, as a gender-fluid person, I love the idea that the evolutionary status quo used to be essentially pansexual, with exploded gender categories (basically, that ameba was going to try its luck with anything it came across). Along the way, this book stomps on myths and instead shares true facts, which are often much weirder. You will love it.

Been There, Done That

By Rachel Feltman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Been There, Done That as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A rollicking, myth-busting history of sex that moves from historical attempts at birth control to Hildegard von Bingen’s treatise on the female orgasm, demystifying plenty of urban legends along the way.

Roman physicians told female patients they should sneeze out as much semen as possible after intercourse to avoid pregnancy. Historical treatments for erectile dysfunction included goat testicle transplants. In this kaleidoscopic compendium of centuries-old erotica, science writer Rachel Feltman shows how much sex has changed—and how much it hasn’t. With unstoppable curiosity, she debunks myths, breaks down stigma, and uses the long, outlandish history of sex to dissect present-day…


Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style

By Kateřina Lisková,

Book cover of Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style: Communist Czechoslovakia and the Science of Desire, 1945-1989

Katerina Liskova’s intriguing sociological and historical study provides a deep dive into the creation of “expert knowledge” by progressive sexologists in the former socialist state of Czechoslovakia. She argues convincingly that while American housewives pottered around their kitchens in the 1950s, Czechoslovak women experienced a sexual revolution after abortion was legalized, same sex love was decriminalized, and scientists focused on how to improve women’s sex lives. State efforts to promote the ideal of full gender equality within romantic relations gave women new opportunities for education and professional advancement that their mothers and grandmothers could scarcely have dreamed of.

Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style

By Kateřina Lisková,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first account of sexual liberation in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Katerina Liskova reveals how, in the case of Czechoslovakia, important aspects of sexuality were already liberated during the 1950s - abortion was legalized, homosexuality decriminalized, the female orgasm came into experts' focus - and all that was underscored by an emphasis on gender equality. However, with the coming of Normalization, gender discourses reversed and women were to aspire to be caring mothers and docile wives. Good sex was to cement a lasting marriage and family. In contrast to the usual Western accounts highlighting the importance…


Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Book cover of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals

Hartman is one of those academic writers who write like novelists or poets; this is a good thing, because her material is the history of the marginalized, people pushed to the margins of history, so that often the only traces left of them are some entries in police or workhouse or hospital records. How to make those records speak and live again? Daringly, Hartman allows herself the poetic license to imagine in the gaps and silences. What results is a Black history/story that renders visible the unrecorded anarchic rebellions of Black women at the turn of the century, seeking out new and joyful possibilities for life. An incredible achievement.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship indifferent to the dictates of respectability and outside the bounds of law. They cleaved to and cast off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist, and revised the meaning of marriage. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading…


Thy Neighbor's Wife

By Gay Talese,

Book cover of Thy Neighbor's Wife

Every generation believes that they see further and think deeper – and weirder – than every one that came before. From this perspective, we imagine that we can do everything differently that those who preceded us. In this book, one of the creators of the so-called New Journalism shows just how wrong we are. In particular, Talese provides a tour of the history of sexual mores, how cultures reflect those mores, and how tradition turns out to be a more powerful cultural magnet than we expect. We can try to make our own new ways in a lot of areas, but the biological pull we all experience invariably pulls us back to a few tendencies and trends we will likely never shake as a species.

Thy Neighbor's Wife

By Gay Talese,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thy Neighbor's Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The provocative classic work newly updated

An intimate personal odyssey across America's changing sexual landscape

When first published, Gay Talese's 1981 groundbreaking work, Thy Neighbor's Wife, shocked a nation with its powerful, eye-opening revelations about the sexual activities and proclivities of the American public in the era before AIDS. A marvel of journalistic courage and craft, the book opened a window into a new world built on a new moral foundation, carrying the reader on a remarkable journey from the Playboy Mansion to the Supreme Court, to the backyards and bedrooms of suburbia—through the development of the porn industry, the…


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