Book Review: The dangerous joy of Dr. Sex and other true stories by Pagan Kennedy

AuthorPagan Kennedy
Title: The dangerous joy of Dr. Sex and other true stories
Publication Info: Santa Fe, N.M. : Santa Fe Writers Project, 2008.
ISBN: 0977679934


I selected this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewer program because I knew that Kennedy was a Boston-area writer, but that was the extent of what I knew about her.  Then I let the book sit around for over half-a-year, because I wasn’t sure it was the type of thing I wanted to read.  My mistake, because Kennedy is a brilliant writer.  Her sentences are very spare, but contain the precise wording necessary to convey complex ideas and emotions.  I imagine Kennedy labors over each sentence for hours to get the wording right.  If she doesn’t, then I hate her because no one should be able to write that well, that easily.

The essays in this book are written in a literary nonfiction style – what Kennedy calls “true stories” – and mostly are short biographies of interesting people.  Most of these people are involved in science, technology, or medicine, all of them are innovators and have tormented lives that motivate them.  Stories include:

  • the title story about Alex Comfort, the psychologist behind the book The Joy of Sex.
  • Amy Smith who strives to invent things that can cheaply and easily be adopted poor, remote areas of the developing world.
  • A young female weightlifter, Cheryl Haworth, who seems to have a future as the strongest woman in the world.
  • Amateur researches examining the effect of electric charges on the brain for improving memory, intelligence, and personality.
  • Vermine Supreme, a prankster-activist.
  • A man who wants to restore the coastline of Eritrea by planting mangrove trees (Dr. Gordon Sato).
  • Singer/songwriter/collaborator extraordinaire and child prodigy Conor Oberst.
  • Saul Griffith, who wants to teach the next generation to be tinkerers and inventors.

The book also contains autobiographical stories from Kennedy’s life, most interesting is the revolutionary yet commonsensical ideas put forth in the essay “Boston Marriage” about women sharing lives and residences together.

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