Masters of Sex – the life and times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the couple who taught America how to love by Thomas Maier

This is a competent description of an interesting couple of people and their fascinating research into human sexual response. The edition I was given is tied to a TV programme based on this book.

My hesitation about recommending it is really to do with the style of writing, which is sustained but is a bit soulless. The book, which is quite long at 380 densely set pages, reads like a very long article one might find in one of the zietgeist magazines, like Rolling Stone, The New Yorker or Esquire. A journalistic style, I suppose, which makes the book feel a bit breathless. Lots of first-hand accounts of what happened are included, but this leads to too much “recalling that….” and “..he smiled as he recalled that…”, sort of thing.

The story of the research is fascinating, however. I wonder if Masters and Johnson had not embarked on it, how long it would have been before someone else did. As the 1960s unfolded, it is hard to imagine that someone at some point would not have examined the biology of human sexual response, simply because it became openly discussed in ways not seen before in modern western civilization. And a good thing too.

The two of them, as people, seem from the book to have  been just like the rest of us, in most ways. Both married several times, and their work on the physical aspects of sex didn’t give them any magic bullets in dealing with the mysteries of love. Which is what they themselves said. As the author puts it “knowledge of carnal functions couldn’t replace the wisdom of the heart”.

This is a good read if you are interested in the subject but less so if you are, like me, an eclectic generalist, looking for pleasure and stimulus in the act of reading, as much as additions to a store of factual knowledge. I have always been bad at retaining facts, actually. I read for the moment, I suppose, a bit like listening to jazz, enjoying the journey more than the destination.

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