Books for the News, History, History and Philosophy of Science

Impotence in Hot Type

jacket imageThe Hot Type column in the June 1 Chronicle of Higher Education discusses Angus McLaren’s new book Impotence: A Cultural History. Peter Monaghan gives a nice overview of McLaren’s project to document the history of male sexual impotence from Renaissance Italy to our modern age of Viagra:

Impotence was with us long before Viagra and Cialis. And curing it has never been quite as simple as popping a pill, reports Angus McLaren in Impotence: A Cultural History. … Ancient Mesopotamians chanted spells and ate helpful plants and roots to combat it, but some more-recent salves seemed liable to further unman the man. During the 20th century, the German surgeon Peter Schmidt’s “Steinach operation,” for example, involved cutting the vas deferens and injecting “testicular extracts,” which were drawn from prisoners executed at San Quentin State Prison in California or from goats, rams, boars, and deer. …
As for Viagra, its cultural workings are worth pondering, suggests Mr. McLaren. While such medications may work, forgoing the magic pill then becomes “almost a lack of responsibility, and defeatism,” he writes, leaving men no freer than before from trying to live up to masculine ideals.

Read a special feature drawn from the book: “Two Millennia of Impotence Cures”.