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The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

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In The Professor in the Cage (2015), professor Jonathan Gottschall enters the world of mixed martial arts to discover the sources of our fascination with violence. Through the power of modern science and by applying the weight of human history, these blinks reveal how our love of fighting is grounded in our deepest human instincts.


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In The Professor in the Cage (2015), professor Jonathan Gottschall enters the world of mixed martial arts to discover the sources of our fascination with violence. Through the power of modern science and by applying the weight of human history, these blinks reveal how our love of fighting is grounded in our deepest human instincts.

30 review for The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jess C.

    I can't even. This book is full of pseudoscience and gender stereotypes. Gottschall takes actual science and facts, relies only on nature arguments, discards nurture arguments, then he takes these facts and submerges them in a mixture of good ol' boys and wanna be a real fighter so bads. For example in one scene his daughter goes inside with his wife and tells him he can't come in and bake cookies (presumably because he is a man). He then waxes on about how men are always on the outside of the f I can't even. This book is full of pseudoscience and gender stereotypes. Gottschall takes actual science and facts, relies only on nature arguments, discards nurture arguments, then he takes these facts and submerges them in a mixture of good ol' boys and wanna be a real fighter so bads. For example in one scene his daughter goes inside with his wife and tells him he can't come in and bake cookies (presumably because he is a man). He then waxes on about how men are always on the outside of the family destined to parole the house to fight off the incoming invaders - men are the expendable ones. Not sure what country or century Gottschall lives in, I certainly haven't seen marauding gangs in my back yard. I imagine if he really wanted to bake cookies with his daughter she would have let him. The fact his daughter locked him out had a lot more to do with being raised with traditional gender stereotypes than with genetics. The protection aspect is getting a little old as well. If someone smaller, weaker and less skilled than him, with no weapon, who didn't surprise him, he might have a chance. If there were multiple people with weapons, he would look a lot less like the hero in a Hollywood movie. And expendable - tell that to the millions of women who were never born and/or died prematurely because of poor nutrition or health care in families prioritizing their sons. Those girls were definitely seen as more expendable. And that is just one paragraph from the book. I could go on and on. The writing is decent. One would expect this, as the author is an English professor. The book is provocative and the author did make an interesting argument. But I object to his sloppy use of science to prove his argument. I also found the author unappealing in his use of his argument to self-aggrandize.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Reynolds

    This book was a dried poodle turd. It could've been good, but the guy drones on and on about masculinity and science. I just wanted to hear about your training, bro. If I wanted to read a science book, I wouldn't read one written by an adjunct English comp teacher. I'd read one written by a scientist. See how that works? This book was a dried poodle turd. It could've been good, but the guy drones on and on about masculinity and science. I just wanted to hear about your training, bro. If I wanted to read a science book, I wouldn't read one written by an adjunct English comp teacher. I'd read one written by a scientist. See how that works?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    The Professor, Jonathan Gottschall, asks why men like to fight, and in this book he is talking about fighting for sport, or for fun, not war or other life and death battles. While I don't quite get why men like to box or cage fight, I do get that competition is fun and that it's an extreme form of competition. Not that mysterious. But I am perplexed at the enjoyment seemingly civilized people seem to get from watching others batter each other to a bloody pulp. Although we are in a relatively pea The Professor, Jonathan Gottschall, asks why men like to fight, and in this book he is talking about fighting for sport, or for fun, not war or other life and death battles. While I don't quite get why men like to box or cage fight, I do get that competition is fun and that it's an extreme form of competition. Not that mysterious. But I am perplexed at the enjoyment seemingly civilized people seem to get from watching others batter each other to a bloody pulp. Although we are in a relatively peaceful time now, during the middle ages and most other times for that matter, people have enjoyed watching bear baiting and other animal torture games, as well as such spectacles as a beheading or burning at the stake. It was a bring the whole family event with music and street fair atmosphere. Gottschall makes the argument that it's our biological destiny (if you're a man -- women are competitive too, but not usually as violent) and that we're just a bunch of primates doing a "monkey dance," posturing for position and status, sometimes bashing each other's heads in to establish dominance, sometimes to impress females, sometimes just for the fun of it. He discusses the universal nature of violent games and the tribal aspect of rooting for your own team. Gottschall is a companionable guide through this exploration and I enjoyed reading his thoughts and his sociological explanations. In addition, his research took a personal turn when he, in his late thirties, decided to train to compete in a cage fight. He acknowledges that it might appear to be a midlife crisis. He trained almost daily for several years and endured pain and injuries that will probably stay with him permanently. He really does seem out of control at times, but that's just my non-violent opinion. He and his visiting brother grapple on the floor at the airport in front of startled passengers, he and a colleague mix it up on the lawn at a faculty party. All in the name of research, of course. So while I understand the arguments, I still don't get it. In fact, as boxing has declined in popularity, cage fighting has not really taken its place among the wider population. Except, possibly, among English professors.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rossdavidh

    This is, despite the author's claims, a book about a midlife crisis. But, rather than the tedious routine midlife crisis of divorce, red sports car, and much younger girlfriend, Gottschall (an associate professor in English at a small liberal arts college) decides to take up MMA cage fighting. He's in his late 30's, and claims that deep down he thought it might be a good way to get fired, so that he can move on to something else. You might conclude from this that Gottschall is kind of a jock, who This is, despite the author's claims, a book about a midlife crisis. But, rather than the tedious routine midlife crisis of divorce, red sports car, and much younger girlfriend, Gottschall (an associate professor in English at a small liberal arts college) decides to take up MMA cage fighting. He's in his late 30's, and claims that deep down he thought it might be a good way to get fired, so that he can move on to something else. You might conclude from this that Gottschall is kind of a jock, who somehow ended up teaching English by mistake. You would be incorrect. He has half a dozen books to his credit examining his field (basically storytelling and how it relates to human biological and evolutionary attributes, as for example "The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human"). He is an example of a humanities professor unafraid to put some mathematical analysis into his work at times. He has had a video interview on edge.org, the smartest website on the internet. He is a guy who can think both deeply and in an original way about important questions. He also is, perhaps, trying to take his field in a direction it simply doesn't want to go. He appears to think that the study of literature should involve, which is to say require, a lot of math and science (especially biology). Regardless of the merits of this approach (and I cannot speak in an informed way on it), this is a tough sell in a typical humanities department, I believe. So Gottschall had, likely, a fair bit of bottled up frustration in there with his career anxiety. Getting into an almost-no-holds-barred fight with another man every week does sound like a way to burn that off. In addition to his own experience over the course of a year and a half, getting into shape, sparring with men ten years younger who go to the same gym, he takes us on a tour of the history of boxing, duelling, and related forms of what he calls "the monkey dance". Because, as Gottschall makes plain, ritualized combat is a sport much, much older than the human species. Other primates do it, and so do a lot of non-primate mammals. It's a way for the two otherwise-would-be-combatants (real combatants, in the sense of 'one of us at least will end up dead') to find out who _would_ have won the combat, had it been for real. That way, the loser can retire from the contest still alive, and the winner can achieve victory with often less risk of serious injury. But of course, what goes through the minds of the contestants is not something like, "let's make sure nobody gets hurt here". Gottschall spends a chapter on the history of duelling, including some discussion of the famous Burr-Hamilton duel that basically administered the coup-de-grace to duelling in America. Fact I didn't know: Alexander Hamilton's son had died in a duel prior to his own, that was conducted with the same pair of pistols as he and Burr used. Yikes. There is a good part of the book where Gottschall dives into some moderately unpleasant parts of the human (especially male) psyche. What makes the book more interesting to me than an MMA fight actually would be, is the fact that his brain is still intact apparently, and he is able not only to relate but also intelligently analyze a lot that I would not otherwise know. For example, he compares the demeanor of football game audiences to MMA cage fighting audiences: football audiences are a lot rowdier. Some of the pithiest dialogue comes from the women in his life: his wife and two young daughters. My favorite part was this: "Abby [age 9] asked 'Are you going to fight in one of those tournaments?' And when I had to admit that I was, six-year-old Annabel held my face between her palms and said, 'Please don't, Daddy. I don't want you to die.' 'Yeah,' Abby said, 'you're gonna lose bad, you know.' " His wife, on the other hand, when he has a problem getting a fight because the state isn't sure it wants to allow a man in his late 30's to do that, suggests that maybe he should go to Vegas, where they are apparently more readily willing to let 'old men' fight. One wonders if this is her using a bit of reverse psychology on her husband, since she knows more about adult male psychology than her daughters. On the other hand, maybe she was just tired of waiting for it to happen and wanted him to get it over with. Gotschall also discusses (a bit) the history of Asian-derived martial arts, and how their status in western society has been challenged by the rise of MMA. His own theory is that Asian martial arts are akin to religion, and MMA is akin to science, and that the Asian martial arts are failing to adapt to the empirical data the MMA provides about what works and what doesn't. Needless to say, others disagree. In the end, of course, Gottschall is too old for this, and knows he will have to quit soon. He has (and survives) his one "real" fight (i.e. not just sparring with guys at his gym), and that is enough. The "monkey dance" is from a lower technology state, where the late 30's was pretty old for a man. Left unanswered is whether or not our species is "too old for this". Is there justification for ritualized violence in the 21st century? Gottschall compares it to his dog, that wants to put its head out the car window to take in an avalanche of smells as he drives. Some say he should put his dog into a specialized harness and seat belt it in, for its own protection. He prefers to let his dog take the more exciting, and more dangerous, path, and he clearly has taken the same route himself. You might have thought that there was little new to be said on the topic of men and fighting, but I found much in his book that I didn't know, or hadn't thought about in precisely that way. Whether you agree or disagree, Gottschall's book is a well-written and genuinely thought-provoking tour of a topic which is difficult to be dispassionate or objective about.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    The premise is strong, unfortunately this book soon devolves into a Jordan Peterson-esque smorgasbord of soft science and half-baked philosophy. I think this idea would've worked better as a long personal essay, because as a full-length book it demands a rigorous approach to the many topics the author glides through. Or perhaps a series of essays as there are many disparate concepts in this book that are barely held together with a shallow thesis of reductive biopolitics Yes, people enjoy violen The premise is strong, unfortunately this book soon devolves into a Jordan Peterson-esque smorgasbord of soft science and half-baked philosophy. I think this idea would've worked better as a long personal essay, because as a full-length book it demands a rigorous approach to the many topics the author glides through. Or perhaps a series of essays as there are many disparate concepts in this book that are barely held together with a shallow thesis of reductive biopolitics Yes, people enjoy violent spectacle. Does it really take a PhD to articulate that? There were some insights here that I enjoyed. The author shows how MMA is a crucible that burns away any fanciful mythologies surrounding martial arts into a brutal utilitarianism. But the author strangely subverts some of his own points. For example, in one chapter he makes a compelling analogy between dueling and academic conferences. That all the high falutin jargon academics throw around is really just another battle for dominance. However, a few chapters later and he's bemoaning the feminization of academia. He even admits this might not be true; it's just his own anecdotal evidence. He claims that his MO is to combine the humanities with the sciences yet he's content to sit with vague generalities and untested hypotheses. This book's worst sin is that it's painfully repetitive. He's constantly belabouring the connection between masculinity and physical dominance, so much so that he seems to be trying to convince himself. I began skimming through the final sections of the book because I couldn't stand to read his incessant preening about how tough MMA training is. Moreover, he never seems to fully embrace this world he so desperately wants to bleong in. He comes across as very smug in whichever arena he operates in. Within academia, he's the tough guy, within MMA he's the academic. He admonishes his colleagues for being wimps but taunts the bros for their insecurity. It's no wonder so many people in the book, including his wife, want to see his ass kicked.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    Animals fight; humans fight, too. Women fight; men fight, too. But men are more likely to fight physically and frequently. Some might say men are just asinine in so doing and men ought to be civilized. Jonathan Gotschall, an English professor, argues that men are the way they are owing to many reasons. Better yet, he places himself in the middle of fights to find out why men fight even if death might result. Gottschall had been a wimp, not being able to stand up for himself all his life. He deci Animals fight; humans fight, too. Women fight; men fight, too. But men are more likely to fight physically and frequently. Some might say men are just asinine in so doing and men ought to be civilized. Jonathan Gotschall, an English professor, argues that men are the way they are owing to many reasons. Better yet, he places himself in the middle of fights to find out why men fight even if death might result. Gottschall had been a wimp, not being able to stand up for himself all his life. He decided to learn MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) to fight for the first time in his life. He states that he had gotten himself in MMA because he wanted to write this book. After having been "food" to other stronger men, the desire to feel like a "man" must have rendered his desire to take up MMA. Gottschall starts the first chapter detailing a duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aron Burr who were respectively the secretary of treasury and the vice president of the United States of America. The duel was over rumors against Aron Burr. The author brings up a propositional question: Why did the two men have to kill each other over petulant and chagrining words? Withal, could they have resolved the conflict in a peaceful manner? The author points out that there was none other way at that time because what the men fought for were not just humiliating words, but respect. In Men's World, respect means a lot more than just respect. Men fight for respect like animals do. Animals fight for food, sex, territory, and protection, all of which mean life and death. For men, respect is life and death. When a man loses respect from other men, it meant just more than being looked down. Money, women, social status, business, power -- life and death likewise --depended on one's respect at those epoch. This principle still applies to the modern world, by virtue of stable civilized government systems, these extreme duel disappeared. De facto Duel in different form, however, still exists in somewhat uncivilized world of prison. Much violent fighting occurs over a stolen banana. They were not fighting for banana; they fight for respect. Once you let somebody steal your banana, people will pilfer you of your food, money, and rape you in the end. Either you become their food or another "man." Gottischall renders a scientific and well researched statement and kick feminism right in the face. Providing a good number of researches and studies, the author adduce that what masculinity is and argues how masculinity has developed in human. he explains that the masculinity is developed because there were less females and more males. Thus, males compete for reproduction by fighting. Females will be successful in producing offspring without competition or fighting. Risk taking inklings, aggression, competitiveness in males are not invented, rather they have naturally grown in males and because the definitions of masculinity. "Masculinity is not a cultural invention. It is not the result of a conspiracy by men against women. It is a real thing that has evolved over millions of years as a response to the built-in competitive realities of male life." Gottschall delves into other psychological, anthropological, biological arguments throughout the book regarding masculinity, fighting, sports, even war throughout the book. The rest of the chapters are well imparting and very educational. His researches culminate in converging with his own anecdotes in fights in later chapters. Gottschall finishes the book by concluding that men fight because fights make men feel great and alive. As Mike Tyson put it, in his bluntly eloquent way, “other than boxing, everything else is so boring.” Maybe, men fight because men have been fighting in the entire existing epochs, and generations after generations while evolving. Fighting must be deeply rooted in men's DNA. It is very recently that men are prohibited from fights. School teachers punish boys for fighting; Cops either break up fights or place the fighting citizens in jails; people recommend for psych evaluation for anger management for aggressive men. Men's instincts are suppressed. Maybe that is why men feel joy when they fight like how their ancestors did all these years.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    This was an interesting read about a world I know nothing about.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alain Burrese

    “The Professor In The Cage: Why Men Fight And Why We Like To Watch” by Jonathan Gottschall is a fascinating look at fighting and violence through the eyes of a college professor who not only researching fighting and violence, but joined a MMA gym to train and actually enter the arena to fight. It is well written, eye opening, and an enjoyable read for anyone interested in why men fight and why so many enjoy watching. Gottschall chronicles his own journey, including his apprehensions and fears, as “The Professor In The Cage: Why Men Fight And Why We Like To Watch” by Jonathan Gottschall is a fascinating look at fighting and violence through the eyes of a college professor who not only researching fighting and violence, but joined a MMA gym to train and actually enter the arena to fight. It is well written, eye opening, and an enjoyable read for anyone interested in why men fight and why so many enjoy watching. Gottschall chronicles his own journey, including his apprehensions and fears, as an out of shape nearing 40 college professor entering the world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and training and competing against men half his age. But he also includes research on fighting and “manly” rituals throughout history in many cultures. It is this combination of memoir and research that indeed sets this book apart from others of similar genre. It's humorous at times, and shockingly brutal at others. Reading this book gives one a better understanding of the place of violence in our lives, and why boys gravitate toward wrestling with each other and why they partake in after school fisticuffs. It also helps illustrate why sex and violence have “sold” throughout history. Was the brutality of watching gladiators all that different from watching modern day UFC bouts? Why has the movie “Saw” and its sequels made so much money? While this book might not provide the definitive answer to these questions and others of a similar nature, it does a good job of examining them. An extremely interesting look at fighting throughout the ages and its popularity with both combatants and spectators. I really enjoyed “The Professor In The Cage” and recommend it to anyone interested in why people fight and why others enjoy watching.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joel Nichols

    Bills itself as analysis of make violence but instead is an apology for the same, a repetitive scree about how gender is actually innate (with no evidence btw) and no interrogation of the homophobia he learned during childhood games of smear the queer. There is no scholarship here, just sad, thin memoir. Penguin press and Washington & Jefferson College, his employer, should be ashamed.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chris Cameron

    Check out my free summaries at camsreads.com Elevator Pitch: The Professor in the Cage takes a fascinating look at the historical connection between the civilized violence we express today and it’s origins. If you thought that we are any different from ancient societies you are wrong, we just package it and make it prettier. Read Time: 5 minutes Lets begin with this Jonathan Gottschall is hands down one of my favorite storytellers to read. He makes nonfiction and self development feel like a great Check out my free summaries at camsreads.com Elevator Pitch: The Professor in the Cage takes a fascinating look at the historical connection between the civilized violence we express today and it’s origins. If you thought that we are any different from ancient societies you are wrong, we just package it and make it prettier. Read Time: 5 minutes Lets begin with this Jonathan Gottschall is hands down one of my favorite storytellers to read. He makes nonfiction and self development feel like a great novel! Also, his writing style is really “journaly”, if that’s a word. It’s like a mix of James Altucher and Emily Bronte, at least for me. This book was released in 2015 and between the cover and it’s historical research it brought a whole new context to the world of mix martial arts, contact sports, fans, and our natural affinity for violence, even in these “civilized” times . Here is the KWU I stole from this book: Sports are ritualized combat UFC is today’s Roman Coliseum Men and women express extreme violence differently Knowledge: Today’s sports are just ritualized forms of warfare. Many people engage in sports for physical fitness or for social acceptance. There is nothing wrong with it, however the bulk of sports all contain some level of violence that has been codified in order to make it more tolerable to our “civilized society”. Look at boxing, football, basketball, lacrosse, wrestling, and rugby. All of them contain some form of making the opponent bow out to your superiority through brute force and intimidation. In a nutshell that is what war. Keep in mind before any game starts you always have the opposing leaders of each team square off with a coin toss or stare down! This is the initiation of battle, to see who will have the upper hand, the upper ground, the advantage. Dumbing down all this testosterone, energy, and power into an organization platform is just the ritualization of what human beings have been practicing for thousands of years, resolution through violence. Wisdom: UFC is today’s Roman Coliseum, we all watch and we all attend. If we were to think back to the brutality of the Roman Coliseum many of us would turn our heads at seeing such a disgusting display of barbarity… slow down Mother Theresa, not so fast. Whether or not you want to admit the Roman Coliseum is in full effect today. Mix martial arts has been around for decades in some form or another but UFC made it what is it today. In ancient Rome every citizen would participant in watching the Gladiators fight! It had everyone’s attention. Today UFC in estimated to have a $1 billion + net worth. So essentially it is has the majority of the population’s attention. These fighters, with a thin leather glove for protection, go toe-to-toe until someone either taps out or gets knock out. In America, this is the closest we are going to get to the Roman Coliseum level of barbarity. But it can be worse! There are bare knuckle fight clubs all over the US and predominantly in Russia. These fights go to today’s extreme. There are no rules, just be the last one standing. Crazy, right! No not really, compared to our history that is child like. Fighting to the death was common and promoted. It helped established social hierarchies and kept civil unrest in check, at least until a war broke out. Understanding: Men and Women are equally violent they just express it differently. The science tells us that fighting is more closely linked to masculinity than femininity. This is why outwardly it looks like men display the largest amount of extreme violence. Men: The main component for male violence is the competitive reproductive market. Women produce several hundred eggs in a lifetime while men can fertilize over 3 billion in that same time frame. Which means for the men there are slim picking which leads to more violence. This is why young single men tend to commit the most crimes, as they fall into the most competitive sexual market there is. Women: Although women are less masculine they do display extreme violence through fighting much like men do, but just on a lesser level. Also, they tend to exercise violence in more indirect measures. This can mean gossiping or tarnishing the social standing of an enemy. This may seem less detrimental than fighting to the death, but in ancient times if a tarnished image spread through a tribe you could be ostracized from them. Essentially, cut off from all aid and resources which would eventually led to death.\ You could even translate that to today’s times. If someone gossips about you at work and it’s believed it could lead you to being unemployed! Which means alcoholism, depression, homelessness, and suicide…jk, but nonetheless it would suck a lot. No one is necessarily worse than the other it’s just that men and women express it differently. What Mattered Most to Me I think this book gave me clarity on what violence really is and how we are not as innocent of it as we like to think. Nowadays if we see something crazy like a parent spanking their child we are “shocked” and ready to call child protective services. This is such hypocrisy because we repeatedly sit our children in front of movies that contain sex and murder, but them experiencing a whooping every blue moon is considered unethical. Jonathan Gottschall also revealed to me the origin of that young aggressive temperament we as men carry. Now with a better understanding of why it’s there I could possibly teach younger guys how to harness that and use it constructively instead of destructively. It was an eye opening read. Jonathan if you are reading this thanks for sharing your creation with us! Other Key Take-Aways from The Professor in the Cage? Human beings have not changed much since the beginning of recorded history Extreme violence sucks, but its a social necessity Codified violence makes us feel less terrible about our cultural addiction to gore Fighting is how societies prepared for war Leonidas and the 300 is fairly accurate. THIS IS SPARTA! #spartanchestkick

  11. 4 out of 5

    Olli Lukkari

    A 40-year old English professor joins a local MMA-gym (mixed martial arts) and starts training for his debut match. In the mean time he goes on through various studies based on anthropology, psychology, history, cultural studies and (evolutionary) biology on violence and martial arts/sports/ritualized comabt. Gottschall tries to find answers on why we as a species fight, why we like to watch and use violence, what are the sex/gender differences in fighting/competing in sports. An intellectual ta A 40-year old English professor joins a local MMA-gym (mixed martial arts) and starts training for his debut match. In the mean time he goes on through various studies based on anthropology, psychology, history, cultural studies and (evolutionary) biology on violence and martial arts/sports/ritualized comabt. Gottschall tries to find answers on why we as a species fight, why we like to watch and use violence, what are the sex/gender differences in fighting/competing in sports. An intellectual take on MMA and not just a look of an outsider as Gottschall also trains the sport himself. The book was a fun read, although instead of dwelling so much on history and on traditional gender roles/stereotypes I would have liked there to have been also more kind of envisioning on how the future world could look like with the changing of the gender roles. I liked the use and citation of many sources and how the violence and martial arts were seen from many angles.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Earl Pike

    Well researched and very enthralling. Insightful and entertaing. Gottschall spends a lot of time explaining what most conservative, blue collar males already know. so its interesting to see the journey of change he goes through by the end of his book. I really enjoyed the dismantling of martial arts and the subsequent anecdote that follows. All in all, the book, although monotonous at times, was enjoyable and not disagreeable. Give it a read if youre in the mood for male gender study.

  13. 5 out of 5

    jdotpitts

    Great book that explores why men and women fight and if not fighting why we like to watch fighting. Also makes a strong argument that all sports are really borne out of fighting. What I liked so much about the book is that the author intertwines the discussion with his own training for an amateur MMA fight.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Edvald

    The best thing I can say about this book is that it had potential. I can enjoy a good book in the pop-science-memoir-crossover genre, his depiction of life in academia is strikingly honest, and the question is compelling: Why do some behaviours – here, men fighting – occur across time and place? However, what Gottschall ended up with is a case study in how NOT to write a popular science book. Now, Gotschall admits the book is gimmicky, so I won’t complain too much about that. Still, his attempts The best thing I can say about this book is that it had potential. I can enjoy a good book in the pop-science-memoir-crossover genre, his depiction of life in academia is strikingly honest, and the question is compelling: Why do some behaviours – here, men fighting – occur across time and place? However, what Gottschall ended up with is a case study in how NOT to write a popular science book. Now, Gotschall admits the book is gimmicky, so I won’t complain too much about that. Still, his attempts at being funny are at times excruciating. There is this section where he tells about how he as a teenager had gotten hold of some video tapes and guiltily watched them in the basement. This, of course, turns out to be MMA battles, but the way he describes it until this “reveal”, it’s obvious I am “meant to think” it’s porn, and as a literary device, it really doesn’t do it for me. He also does citations in what must be the most annoying way possible. Instead of having handy footnotes to tell you when there is more to check out, you need to constantly have the “Notes” section open if you want to use it, because there is no indication in the text when there is a note. You only find out if he has more to say about a sentence in the back of the book, where the sentence with a note is repeated in bold. Which is honestly just impractical. Still, those are mostly inconveniences and pet peeves, and not really enough to give a book one star. However, The Professor in the Cage has some far bigger issues. Firstly, he misses out on all the interesting questions he, a humanities scholar writing on evolutionary science, could have discussed. For example, he says about bullying that while adults often view it as a social issue, it is a natural way for males to work out the hierarchy in a group. This seems, to me, to beg several questions. Just because something is natural or a result of evolution, is it necessarily ethical? Can’t something be both a natural and a social issue? What is the relationship between our nature and our decisions? He seems to lack exactly that kind of nuanced critical thinking that those of us in the humanities keep saying is what makes the humanities important to study. Second – and this is my biggest problem with The Professor in the Cage – Gotschall doesn’t really argue for an evolutionary explanation for why men fight as much as he states it. He doesn’t engage with counterarguments as much as he simply says they’re wrong. Take his discussions with his friend, the Poet, who thinks that gender is socially constructed (to what degree or in what way, Gotschall never specifies). Which Gotschall treats as obviously glaringly wrong and not really worth discussing. Just as bad, when he refers to (mostly psychological) experiments that support his thesis, he seldom explains how the experiment was conducted or whether the researcher controlled for other factors that might make the results less-than-reliable. This makes it hard to know whether he is on firm ground or not, unless you use the cumbersome citations to find the original source and read it yourself. I get the impression he wants to leave the reader as incapable as possible to critically engage with the claims he makes, which is a very bad sign. In conclusion, I wouldn’t trust Gottschall as far as I can throw him. If you are going to read one popular science book on evolution with an eye to culture, make it Joseph Henrich’s The Story of Our Success. It’s a bit dry and repetitive, but he takes the reader seriously, and at the end of it, you will actually have learnt something.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex & Books

    “The Professor In The Cage” is about a professor’s journey into the MMA world as he trains & explores the history of violence. 💥 . So why do people fight & why do people like to watch? 🤔 . Fighting has been a method of settling disagreements for much of history (men have been dueling with fists, swords, guns for ages). ⚔️ . Men fight to protect their honor & status in society. If a man disrespects you & you let it go, you’re seen as a pushover. 👎 . People love violence: from books, to horror movies, to “The Professor In The Cage” is about a professor’s journey into the MMA world as he trains & explores the history of violence. 💥 . So why do people fight & why do people like to watch? 🤔 . Fighting has been a method of settling disagreements for much of history (men have been dueling with fists, swords, guns for ages). ⚔️ . Men fight to protect their honor & status in society. If a man disrespects you & you let it go, you’re seen as a pushover. 👎 . People love violence: from books, to horror movies, to live events. Centuries ago, people attended public hangings & executions, today people watch SAW & play video games where they kill strangers. 💀 . Why the love for violence? Because evolutionary, it pays off. For eons, the person who was more aggressive rose to power & got better mates. Even today, the MMA fighter who wins the most gets more money, respect, and attracts more women. 🧲 . If you’re into combat sports or want to learn the history of why people fight/like violence, this book is for you. 📖

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    As an ageing middle aged man who'd rather be home reading and who has never been in a fistfight, I felt an immediate kinship with this author. One of the more interesting questions he raises is how much of being a "man" is putting yourself at risk for physical confrontation? If you have never been properly kicked, stomped, or punched in the face, are you missing a vital part of something? This in part what lead the author, a 39 year old literature professor, to start training in mixed martial a As an ageing middle aged man who'd rather be home reading and who has never been in a fistfight, I felt an immediate kinship with this author. One of the more interesting questions he raises is how much of being a "man" is putting yourself at risk for physical confrontation? If you have never been properly kicked, stomped, or punched in the face, are you missing a vital part of something? This in part what lead the author, a 39 year old literature professor, to start training in mixed martial arts(MMA) with an eye toward a competitive match. This book details his experiences along the way, interspersed with some fascinating history about why men(and sometimes women) throughout history have sought out physical violence as a marker of their masculinity. Through the lens of sports, mating rituals, status and hierarchy, and several others, he lays out an excellent case that while not glorifying violence, does argue that it is an essential part of who we are and we can no more discard it than discard ourselves. I enjoyed the author's wit and was fascinated by his quixotic journey into MMA, which I knew nothing about but came out of this book with some grudging respect for.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Damon

    Nothing profound; an armchair anthropological examination of sports as ritualized violence and the centrality of violence in human nature, especially in males. This is demonstrated through the lens of anecdotes of a low level English lit professor preparing for an MMA match. Both have been done before, and the author admits as much. Nevertheless, it's a quick, entertaining, and thought provoking read if you're into that kind of thing. Nothing profound; an armchair anthropological examination of sports as ritualized violence and the centrality of violence in human nature, especially in males. This is demonstrated through the lens of anecdotes of a low level English lit professor preparing for an MMA match. Both have been done before, and the author admits as much. Nevertheless, it's a quick, entertaining, and thought provoking read if you're into that kind of thing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alexandre Contreras

    I started this book hoping to read about the author's experience trying MMA and learning about fighting. Unfortunately, this is only covered briefly in the first and last couple of pages. The book focuses on the history of fighting and why men like it. I was rather disappointed by this, as the basic explanation given is that men have always enjoyed fighting, and women not so much. Still a decent read for MMA fans, but keep expectations low. I started this book hoping to read about the author's experience trying MMA and learning about fighting. Unfortunately, this is only covered briefly in the first and last couple of pages. The book focuses on the history of fighting and why men like it. I was rather disappointed by this, as the basic explanation given is that men have always enjoyed fighting, and women not so much. Still a decent read for MMA fans, but keep expectations low.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    The anecdotal / science balance was tilted too much in favor of the former. The gender facts will ruffle social constructivist feathers.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    This is a really interesting and engaging book. Gottschall intertwines his personal journal into and through amateur MMA with research on evolutional psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history. He explores the history of fighting and violence in human societies and in animals and develops some intriguing theories about why people continue to fight and are drawn to fighting. The book obviously treads into some contentious (and these days dangerous) waters about gender and culture. I think th This is a really interesting and engaging book. Gottschall intertwines his personal journal into and through amateur MMA with research on evolutional psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history. He explores the history of fighting and violence in human societies and in animals and develops some intriguing theories about why people continue to fight and are drawn to fighting. The book obviously treads into some contentious (and these days dangerous) waters about gender and culture. I think the author handles these issues relatively well. He presents his reasons and evidence for this take and how he sees his interpretation of these issues connecting with the discussion of violence and fighting. If you disagree with his interpretations (and there are definitely things to take issue with), you won’t likely agree with his conclusions, but even so there is still a lot to learn about from the book. The storytelling itself is engaging: Gottschall’s own experiences as both confirmation and disconfirmation of things he is hard learned from the research is compelling. You can see that he had certain ideas about fighting and violence, that were challenged by the research and his experiences and that he comes through experience with new or modified ideas. His broadest take is that the violence we see in things like MMA, but across the board in sports and life, are often linked to some deep, evolutionary need for duels: ritualized fighting and experience of danger. There are psychological needs met by these experience of preparing one’s self for violence but also in engaging in the violence. He argues you can see this across human cultures, but deep into the animal kingdom as well. He also argues that this is much more tied to the males of species; though not exclusively. The argument for these claims, ultimately, needs to be a lot better and tighter than what is presented here. In a sweeping way, there are many interesting connections he identifies and shares; and I think there is general sense in which Gottschall is capturing a good chunk of the picture. Yet, the devil is in the details, as the clichéd saying goes, and there isn’t a lot on the details here (which is fine—since this is not scientific treatise on the subject. It’s memoir of Gottschall’s experiences and connection to his research on these issues). As a philosopher of sport, the sections specifically focused on sport were interesting to me. There isn’t, unfortunately, any engagement with the work on dangerous and violent sport in the philosophy of sport, and that was disappointing. I think Gottschall and the book could have benefited from that work. I listened to the book, and the narrator, Quincy Dunn Baker, was excellent. He played no small part in my enjoyment of the book. Overall, the book is worth a look and offers a lot to think about.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    I kind of liked this book. I suppose I am not the only man who daydreams about beating up someone else occasionally. I am not going to say I shouldn't, this just happens for some reason. Gottschall explains, or argues, that all male primates are hardwired to establish their position in the pecking order, and intimidating and even beating up people is the way to go, especially in communities that are not policed. Play fighting between groups or aggressive sports serve an similar purpose: figuring I kind of liked this book. I suppose I am not the only man who daydreams about beating up someone else occasionally. I am not going to say I shouldn't, this just happens for some reason. Gottschall explains, or argues, that all male primates are hardwired to establish their position in the pecking order, and intimidating and even beating up people is the way to go, especially in communities that are not policed. Play fighting between groups or aggressive sports serve an similar purpose: figuring out which group is the strongest. This usually preempts an actual tribal war. Football and soccer games are also vicarious tribal wars. These are the only type of game where supporters misbehave the way they do and the only sports that have aficionado fandom. Also man to man fights, as in duels, are the way to solve conflicts if you want to maintain your position in society. If you are being insulted and you don't respond, you lose face and, ultimately, your position in society. If there is no social safety net, this can be more threatening than losing your life. And then there are bloodlust and the sense of being alive that people (men) get from violence, being in a battle for instance. A fun fact is that Chinese martial arts are completely useless in all out, non-ritual fights. As soon as a man is lying on the ground, kung fu moves are over. Wrestling and boxing are better to prepare. Gottschall describes this all quite interestingly (to me, at least) and he connects this with his personal story. As a low status academic pushing 40 he decides to prepare for a cage fight. This is about as violent as martial arts get. This is obviously his last chance in life to be a real man, for once, and he probably needs that to compensate for his lack of success and for all humiliation he suffered in his life. The story ends with his first and final cage fight, where he taps out after 24 seconds after being totally crushed. But he has been brave enough to confront his enemy, so he is satisfied. This is somewhat diminished when he finds out his victor is training to be a nurse.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    This book is not a fight manual or narration of a fighter's journey. It is an exploration and discussion of why men like to fight, compete, and why we invest so much time, money and energy in competitive pursuits such as combat sports. It discusses the differences between men and woman, how sport is the modern version of ritualised combat/duelling, and how society and culture have changed over time with regards to ritualised combat. I enjoyed the book a lot. It may not have convinced me on every This book is not a fight manual or narration of a fighter's journey. It is an exploration and discussion of why men like to fight, compete, and why we invest so much time, money and energy in competitive pursuits such as combat sports. It discusses the differences between men and woman, how sport is the modern version of ritualised combat/duelling, and how society and culture have changed over time with regards to ritualised combat. I enjoyed the book a lot. It may not have convinced me on every point but it is definitely a light, interesting, and conversational book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael Rather Jr.

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Jonathan Gottschall beat me to the punch. His interest, story, etc... is very close to my own. He finds his inner warrior in MMA. I’ve discovered mine through training in the Historical European Martial Arts. I am a professor (never gave it up). He didn’t become a professor ultimately but has had the success in writing that I desire. His interests and conclusions on masculinity (and femininity) mirror my own. There is much in here that people will find uncomfortable, but it’s a great book and hi Jonathan Gottschall beat me to the punch. His interest, story, etc... is very close to my own. He finds his inner warrior in MMA. I’ve discovered mine through training in the Historical European Martial Arts. I am a professor (never gave it up). He didn’t become a professor ultimately but has had the success in writing that I desire. His interests and conclusions on masculinity (and femininity) mirror my own. There is much in here that people will find uncomfortable, but it’s a great book and his experiences make his findings even more hard to argue with.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anna Faktorovich

    This book captivated my attention in the “Preface” when Jonathan Gottschall confessed that he was working as a “lowly adjunct making $16,000 per year teaching composition to freshmen who couldn’t care less” in his late thirties (3). When I saw the blurbs and cover in the catalog, I had assumed that this will be a straight-forward history and sociological study of the phenomenon of humans fighting. When I started reading the “Preface,” I could immediately tell that it was written in the conversat This book captivated my attention in the “Preface” when Jonathan Gottschall confessed that he was working as a “lowly adjunct making $16,000 per year teaching composition to freshmen who couldn’t care less” in his late thirties (3). When I saw the blurbs and cover in the catalog, I had assumed that this will be a straight-forward history and sociological study of the phenomenon of humans fighting. When I started reading the “Preface,” I could immediately tell that it was written in the conversational cross pop-fiction/academic style that is popular with the big publishers like Penguin today as they try to create sales for scholarly books that matches their mainstream children’s, bestselling literary and popular genre books. These books feel as if professors really step into the ring to compete for attention with Fifty Shades of Grey and Harry Potter. And it’s amazing how readable non-fiction can become when it’s weaved in with personal stories and entertaining historical anecdotes, as is the case here. Jonathan spends years training at the mixed martial arts (MMA) studio that was started across the street from his shared adjunct office in the English Department of the Washington & Jefferson College, where he later became a Distinguished Research Fellow, as he stepped away from teaching to focus on this writing. Five years after starting training in January 2011, his labor of love is finally being released from Penguin in a couple of days. He lists five editors in the acknowledgment, but he thanks some of them with helping with image copyrights and others (a family member for one) it seems with helping with readability and making the whole thing more approachable for general readers. The book opens with a foreshadowing that Jonathan’s wife referred him to friends who could help him get a fight in Vegas, and his steps towards this option. In the conclusion, he ends up going through only one fight in his more local Pennsylvania and confesses that he only laid one punch on this much younger opponent. In part he had difficulty booking a fight because he was moving towards forty and even MMA has age restrictions. The description of how Jonathan fears getting into a fight and yet feels that his wife might be more attracted to him if he shows prowess by engaging in physical competitions are very endearing and create sympathy for the struggling writer. The personal reflections are well-mixed with summaries and critical evaluations of major fights such as the first professional MMA fight that established the sport between Teila Tuli, a four-hundred-pound sumo wrestler, and Gerald Gordeau, a thin and tall black-belt janitor. There are also numerous retellings of famous duels (Hamilton in 1801 on the Hudson River) and Gladiator championships. It is designed like a high school textbook, with grey boxes with photographs and historical key points. However, most of these boxes contain humorous anecdotes that are more sarcastic than enlightening. For example in one box under a photograph of a semi-domed hall, Gottschall argues that academia is “fiercely competitive.” He explains that he was just at a European conference on “violence” where the presenters battled each other with scathing remarks, “I stumbled early in the fight and got hammered down by a hooting primatologist. Then, before I could gain my feet, an elderly historian from Oxford doddered over to drag his blade across my throat…” (64). The obvious sexist assumption in the title is that it’s specifically “men” who like to “fight” and “we” or both sexes that “like to watch.” The editors must have raised objections on this because Gottschall includes several sections that explain why women who reared children for decades before contraception could not gather the strength needed for physical challenges. But, then again, I’ve always been very proud to be a woman because of the assumption that women are less violent or less barbaric than men. I personally think that all violence is animalistic and unrefined. Anybody that engages in fist-throwing must’ve lost an argument (even if that argument was with his own animalistic self). I enjoy watching fights in the movies, but I’ve never been able to sit through an MMA or even a fake-fighting show because fighting without a motive other than hoping for victory is a very dull sport from a critical point of view. At one point, Gottschall proposes that baseball should be made more interesting (to help the dwindling attendance) by allowing players to fight when there is a bad play without interference. I have never sat through any full game (baseball or football), but it’s hard to imagine that inserting brutal and bloody fights will make baseball more interesting. To summarize, if you enjoy fighting and you have some free time, I recommend slowly and leisurely reading this book. Academics will find it difficult to quote from it. Violence theorists that Gottschall met at his European conference will probably tear it to shreds because of the loose jokes and sketchy history. Younger readers used to linguistic density in books such as Fifty Shades of Grey probably will have trouble with the comparatively dense vocabulary and historically rich references. But, somewhere in the middle, there are disgruntled adjunct professors out there who want to quit their jobs and join the circus or MMA too and they will surely giggle at the inside academia jokes and sport-porn references.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ben Detiveaux

    A fascinating look at the darkness within so many men and how it's kept at bay. Gottschall's observations on the fascination men have with violence and their relationship with it (shame, love, disgust) are worth a read. It falls short of five stars because I feel at times it can drag on. In addition, it feels like there's something missing that I can't quite place. It's good, but it doesn't quite reach great. A fascinating look at the darkness within so many men and how it's kept at bay. Gottschall's observations on the fascination men have with violence and their relationship with it (shame, love, disgust) are worth a read. It falls short of five stars because I feel at times it can drag on. In addition, it feels like there's something missing that I can't quite place. It's good, but it doesn't quite reach great.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    I'm someone that has what most people would consider totally insane views regarding sustainability and environmentalism so glorifying and supporting athletes who consume 6,000-8,000 calories per day and a couple hundred grams of protein (enough for several people), who rely on routine surgeries and expensive physical therapies to stay functional, and who make millions of dollars that they spend on sports cars and mansions and shit all because they have the ambition to be the best at something th I'm someone that has what most people would consider totally insane views regarding sustainability and environmentalism so glorifying and supporting athletes who consume 6,000-8,000 calories per day and a couple hundred grams of protein (enough for several people), who rely on routine surgeries and expensive physical therapies to stay functional, and who make millions of dollars that they spend on sports cars and mansions and shit all because they have the ambition to be the best at something that doesn't matter in any real sense should go against everything I believe in. Yet for some reason watching UFC fights remains one of several guilty pleasures that I haven't managed to let go of. As a kid I was obsessed with Mortal Kombat, then paintball in high school. When I find myself getting all worked up about pointless games like those now I have to ask "what the hell is wrong with me?" So the description of this book really caught my attention. When I saw who wrote it though I wasn't really expecting much (The Storytelling Animal wasn't exactly my favorite). Then noticing endorsements from Steven Pinker and Sam Harris on the cover made me question if this would even be worth reading. Their views on the progress of modern civilization tend to piss me off. And Gottschall definitely fits pretty closely with Pinker's idea that violence is on the decline. I have some mixed feelings about the suppression of masculinity and feminism's role in bringing about some naïve policies. His discussion on those topics is at least interesting. What I completely disagree with is the idea that our culture is making things more peaceful in general. The violence hasn't actually vanished, it's just become harder to see. The "pretend violence" that high-tech movie, videogame and professional sports industries have brought us still depend on real violence to make their products. No matter how brutal some primitive sports were none of them threatened the habitability of the planet as a whole. Shouldn't things like the extinction of 200 species per day be factored in to calculations of how violent we are? Even instances of people in Western Civilization truly being less aggressive seems more a result of chemical induced testosterone deficiencies and the apathy that comes from being zonked out on prescription meds than enlightenment. He also spends a lot of time discussing hierarchy and the role sports play in establishing it in a relatively peaceful manner. He calls humans "hierarchical creatures" but that's not really true. Ever since our brains developed the ability to process complex ideas and coordinate plans with our peers we've actually been vehemently anti-hierarchical for the most part. The vast majority of hunter gatherer societies (the vast majority of our existence as a species) designed their cultures to prevent big alpha male types from dominating the group. Our rituals aren't like deer rutting, used to determine mating rights. They may help to impress certain mates but that's not the same thing. Most of our activities seem mainly just the result of our bodies craving exercise. We've evolved on a tough planet and need stresses for bone and muscle development. Our immune systems benefit from exposure to pathogens. It's good for us to bleed once in a while. We need to let out aggression in order to function socially. Part of his hierarchy argument is that stronger groups intimidate smaller groups and this helps prevent real fighting. I'm not so sure that sports contests really have much to do with that though. In fact, his whole discussion on war didn't sound right to me. Ever since the invention of civilization, war has been more about subjugated masses being forced to follow orders, mostly unwillingly, not men deciding themselves that they want to go out and kill something. Whether the state's propaganda succeeds in making them want to fight or not they still fight. Their personal levels of fear and aggression don't really matter much under such circumstances. Sports are set up to be as fair of "fights" as possible so a game's outcome isn't likely to make much difference in a decision of whether or not a society is conquerable. The good and bad aspects of sports are interesting to think about and he does a pretty good job of at least providing a template for your own thoughts on the subject. However he misses issues like the inherent destructiveness of such large-scale events and the takeover of big businesses, the dangers of ambition and the unbalanced lifestyles of sports specialists and the way sports instill nationalism and political team affiliations into us. The messages he ends with as a result come across as kind of irresponsible. Sort of like "Just do what you love. Who cares how damaging it is." Sure, bubble-wrapping the world tends to just cause more problems as it drives people insane but that doesn't mean there's nothing wrong with race-car driving or spending all your free time watching a bunch of idiot millionaires fight over a ball while the whole world goes to shit. Gottschall, although entertaining (the last line of the book is one of the funniest things I've read in a while) and choosing great topics to write about, is a pretty mediocre writer in my opinion.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Abhi Yerra

    I would say this part memoir, part a social understanding of male violence, and part him making fun of his colleagues because he was an English Adjunct Professor. It was interesting read because it covered some interesting aspects of how violence is transmitted socially but I thought Demonic Males was a better read for that.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Shkoruta

    Half of the time felt like "duh", quater of the time was entertaining. I would recommend it to people who thinks that "participating in contact sports indulge people's bloodthurst" and "violent behaviour is socially prescribed" but otherwise you can safely skip it. Especially if you boxed, wrestled, etc. as a kid/adult. Half of the time felt like "duh", quater of the time was entertaining. I would recommend it to people who thinks that "participating in contact sports indulge people's bloodthurst" and "violent behaviour is socially prescribed" but otherwise you can safely skip it. Especially if you boxed, wrestled, etc. as a kid/adult.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    An entertaining and well-researched look at the roots of masculinity, and how our bizarre forms of modern entertainment serve to keep it alive. For the first time in my life, the appeal of spectator sports makes sense to me. It was a bit slow in places, but the central theme of the book kept tugging forward hard enough to keep most readers engaged.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dejan Gegic

    At the start it sounded wuiet underwhelming but turned out I was wrong. The author delivered brilliant answers to all the questions he promised to get into. There's a fair bit of talk about evolutionary psychology which is interwoven with his personal life and storyline. All in all, a fun read. Don't expect a strictly scientific book, nor a linear novel. It's a pleasant blend of both. At the start it sounded wuiet underwhelming but turned out I was wrong. The author delivered brilliant answers to all the questions he promised to get into. There's a fair bit of talk about evolutionary psychology which is interwoven with his personal life and storyline. All in all, a fun read. Don't expect a strictly scientific book, nor a linear novel. It's a pleasant blend of both.

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