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Cover of the year?

February 10, 2010 |  1:34 pm

Manhood_modest Bookstores that stock the smart academic books from the University of Chicago Press have something racier than usual on their shelves: the book "Manhood" by Mels van Driel. The cover features a copy of Michelangelo's David, from the waist down, naked in vivid, carved detail.

To protect the innocent, we've provided a modest black bar for the stone gentleman. The book, originally published in Amsterdam in 2008, is making its American debut.

Author Mels van Driel is a consultant urologist and sexologist at Groningen University Medica Center in the Netherlands. He brings a light hand to the subject -- the book's subtitle is "The Rise and Fall of the Penis."

But with chapters as plain as "Testosterone and Sperm" and "The Prostate and Seminal Glands," can the book live up to the wit of its title -- or the arty salaciousness of its cover? Here's how chapter two begins:

Modern medicine sees the erection of the penis as based on a euro-vascular reflex, dependent on a correct hormonal balance, a healthy anatomy, an adequate blood supply and an undamaged and efficiently functioning nervous system. If one takes all this on board, one realizes that it's easy for things to go wrong occasionally. Put more strongly, it's a miracle that things go smoothly so often! So this chapter will highlight not only the technical, but also the miraculous aspects.

That's not a laugh riot, but it's fairly easygoing for an academic treatise. Be warned, there are also photographs and diagrams of ailments of men's private parts, literary references, and a long section dedicated to ailments of the penis. There is also a table titled "Penis Length in Normal Men"; perhaps it's for the best that the measurements have been left in centimeters.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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