Christopher Hart

Hedonists Handbook

Sex, Drugs and Chocolate: The Science of Pleasure

By Paul Martin

Fourth Estate 388pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Paul Martin is a behavioural biologist, and his latest book is an intriguing and amiable study of the ‘hedonic impulse’, by a writer who clearly has a healthy relish for the good things in life and the pleasures of the flesh.

Some readers might feel a bit short-changed by the science or find there’s a lot of cultural-historical padding about subjects they know already. Before getting to the hard stuff, for instance, there is a chapter on, as Martin freely admits, some ‘haphazardly chosen sensation seekers’, to illustrate the powerful role of boredom in human existence. The lives of Peter Cook, Errol Flynn and the Earl of Rochester are briefly summarised, as is that of ‘Mad’ Jack Mytton, the Regency squire who drank six bottles of port a day, every day, and tried to cure himself of hiccups by setting fire to his own nightshirt. But this has been more entertainingly and appropriately covered elsewhere, for instance in Edith Sitwell’s English Eccentrics. Similarly we have a flip zip through the history of chocolate, although again, this fascinating subject is more richly and satisfyingly covered in whole-volume histories of the subject.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Lucy Popescu () appeals on the behalf of Rashad Ramazanov, a writer and blogger imprisoned in Azerbaijan ,
    • ''the icon of restlessness for a world that never seems able to settle.'' How Hamlet went on tour ,
    • . is upon us. Look out for free copies of Literary Review for festival attendees.,
    • 'If there is a god, nature is the breath of it and art ... is its messenger.' Jan Morris contemplates Wordsworth ,
    • Weekend read 2: Take inspiration from Jonathan Meades's 'anti'-recipes and 'serve up a treat' this Sunday ,
    • If you're at , starting tomorrow, there are free copies of Literary Review for festival attendees. Grab while stocks last!,
    • Weekend read 1: 'The fiery meteor that was Victor Grayson', as presented in David Clark's biography ,