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The East, the West, and Sex


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About the Author

Richard Bernstein is a columnist for the International Herald Tribune and a contributor to The New York Times. He has served as a foreign correspondent in Asia and Europe for Time and the Times, and is the author of six previous books, including Fragile Glory: A Portrait of France and the French, a New York Times Best Book of the Year, and Out of the Blue: A Narrative of September 11, 2001, from Jihad to Ground Zero, named by The Boston Globe as one of the seven best books of 2002. He lives in New York City.


"Is the notion of the East as a zone of special erotic possibilities purely a matter of Western fantasy and wishful thinking...?" This question is at the center of Bernstein's wide-ranging, critically astute history of the complicated relationship between Western male sexuality and the East. The book opens in 2006 Shanghai and concludes in contemporary Bangkok; in between, we are led through a sweeping yet focused, male-centered history of sexuality, spanning a broadly defined East and West, from antiquity to the 21st century. Bernstein examines Flaubert's sexual exploits in Egypt, where he vividly recorded "a sensual intensity, impossible in the West"; British explorer Richard Burton's travels through the Middle East, India and Africa, all exemplified by a sexual artistry uncultivated in Christian Europe; the fascinating case of the secretive Henry de Montherlant, a pederast who spent years in North Africa "greedy for flesh" and eventually took his own life. Former New York Times correspondent Bernstein (Fragile Glory) writes lucidly and with verve. This probing, absorbing and eclectic study critically challenges morally and politically correct interpretations of the Western sexual exploitation of the East. 12 illus. (June 2) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Using the writing of prominent historical figures like Marco Polo, Gustave Flaubert, Richard Francis Burton, and Rudyard Kipling, Bernstein (Out of the Blue: The Story of September 11, 2001, from Jihad to Ground Zero) tracks the fascination that Western men have had with Eastern women, from ancient explorers describing harems and sex bazaars to contemporary sexual tourism in Thailand. Bernstein makes interesting points about the moral ambiguity of the sex trade: the Christian West casts unfavorable judgments upon sex outside of marriage in ways that the East does not, though the author does admit that the fantasy of guiltless Eastern sexuality is just that, a fantasy. He clearly states his own opinion, based on practicality: the women engaged in the sex trade often use the money they earn to support their impoverished families, and it may be no worse than the other unappealing options the women have open to them. This thoroughly researched work is recommended especially to those interested in gender studies and social history. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/09.]-Crystal Goldman, Univ. of Utah, Salt Lake City Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"Fascinating. . . . Accessible, much-researched and far-reaching. . . . Bernstein's book provocatively externalizes, and maps, the heterosexual male erotic mind."
--The New York Times Book Review

"The East, the West, and Sex is the best sort of book about sex: It is replete with anecdotes from history that titillate as they inform and observations on human nature that amuse as they illuminate, all delivered in language and tone that is broadly moral without being moralizing."
--The Wall Street Journal

"Provocative and intriguing. . . . Properly high-minded. . . . Very good and eminently discussable."
--The New York Times "Bernstein negotiates this territory with great delicacy and considerable historical knowledge. . . . [An] elegantly written book."

"Bernstein is very good at telling these stories. . . . [He] is brave to insist, in the face of much postmodern academic writing about colonialism, that for various reasons having nothing to do with the West, women . . . were far more readily available in the Middle and Far East than in Europe."
--San Francisco Chronicle "A survey whose range is almost stupefyingly wide. . . . [It] introduces the complexity of everyday reality into a world about which it is easy to preach."
--The New York Review of Books
"Wide-ranging [and] critically astute. . . . Sweeping yet focused. . . . Former New York Times correspondent Bernstein writes lucidly and with verve. This probing, absorbing, and eclectic study critically challenges morally and politically correct interpretations of the Western sexual exploitation of the East."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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