"History Laid Bare" (HarperPerennial, $11)

As it says on the Book Jacket...

"A suprisingly large number of famous artists, writers, thinkers, statesmen, even future saints, recorded their thoughts about sex. Richard Zacks, who has unearthed scores of previously undiscovered gems, tells you about everything that your history teacher never did, including:

Excerpt from the intro...

This book aims to put SEX back in history....These scenes vivify history more than any political theory. They color the cold white marble statues.

When I first started this project--combing obscure books in English, French, Italian, Greek, Latin (thanks, Dad, for a wildly impractical education)--to discover these censored moments, I was focussing mainly on larger-than-life figures, like Lincoln or St. Augustine. But the more I delved, the more I discovered extraordinarily revealing events from the not-so-famous. Letters, court cases, doctor's reports, diaries, that when piled end-to-end form an anecdotal timeline of human sexuality--sometimes frightening, sometimes hilarious.

The sheer creativity and diversity when it comes to horizontal (and not so horizontal) amusements is astounding.

I consider myself well-read but I had no idea that a medieval German priest named Burchard of Worms in 1018 A.D. catalogued more than hundred and fifty different sexual sins and their punishments. He describes the penance required when a woman smears herself with honey, rolls in flour and bakes a loaf of aphrodisiacal bread. Or when a man masturbates into a hollowed wooden device. I was also amazed to find the confession of Scottish witch named Isabel Gowdie, who in 1668 A.D. gave a detailed description of sex with devil, right down to his ice water sperm; or 200 years later in America there's the long overlooked diary of a civil war prostitute. "The praying general was brought in today by Preacher H. He is rough and brutal. After I serviced him, he dropped to his knees and asked God to forgive me for my sins!" This is not fiction; this is contemporary reporting, very often from eyewitnesses. Joan of Arc's story is from her trial records in Latin. Flaubert filled his travel notebooks with tales of belly dancers. This book aims to amuse, enlighten and to fill a gap. Put it by your beside and dip in every night. Or read it cover to cover and watch the attitudes change. Either way, I hope it will put flesh and blood on the bare bones of history, and I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I have enjoyed finding them.

Richard Zacks, N.Y.C.
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