That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion by Rachel Herz; Norton, 274 pages, ($26.95). On Page 5, we learn that on the island of Sardinia, they eat something they call "casu marzu," which, according to Rachel Herz, "means rotten cheese or, as it is known colloquially, 'maggot cheese' since it is literally riddled with insect larvae." After four pages of discourse on such matters as bull penis soup, we learn from the author that lobsters -- which many of us would nominate as our favorite culinary delicacy -- were considered "aquatic vermin when they were discovered by European colonists in the 1600s." So great was the European repulsion for the crustaceans that lobster was only fed "to the poor, orphans, slaves and prisoners" leading, in fact, to a Massachusetts law that deemed it "cruel and unusual punishment" to feed lobster to prisoners and servants more than once a week.
Here is a book we've all probably needed for a while -- very entertaining, judicious, vastly informative and by the time Herz has finished, extraordinarily wise about a subject that needs wisdom as do few others but which few would have been creative enough to explore this way.
Herz teaches at Brown University and is an expert on "the psychology of smell and emotion." Previously she wrote "The Scent of Desire."
Before her tour of disgust -- the slowest developing of all our emotions -- is over, we've learned that "lust and disgust are so intertwined" because they are "neurologically in bed together, so to speak." Recent experiments have shown that adjacent "brain areas were activated while the participants looked at photos that they considered disgusting or erotic, whatever they may have been." Not only that, we learn that after seeing scary movies, people's leukocyte counts may be sufficiently depleted by the body's response to make the viewers more susceptible to infection.
Absolutely fascinating all the way through.
-- Jeff Simon