"Kennedy prowls the shadowy, creepy, eye-popping limits of the culture where other writers fear to tread." - John Sedgwick, author, The Dark House and the Education of Mrs. Bemis
"A dangerous joy of literary pleasure—a compelling, spellbinding reading experience. In this book, Pagan Kennedy writes with clarity, honesty and impeccable grace." - Lee Gutkind, author, Almost Human: Making Robots Think
"Complicated, cool, and vulnerable at the same time . . . you can't help falling for Pagan Kennedy's characters." - The New York Times
Section 1: Visionaries
1 The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex
53 Genius on Two Dollars a Day
69 Bird Brain
77 The Strongest Woman in the World
91 Battery-Powered Brain
111 Vermin Supreme Wants to Be Your Tyrant
123 The Chemist in the Desert
135 One Room, Three-Thousand Brains
149 The Mystic Mechanic
157 The Ballad of Conor Oberst
173 How to Make (Almost) Anything
189 What We Mean By Freedom
Section 2: First Person: Stories from My Own Life
209 Boston Marriage
223 The Encyclopedia of Scorpions
243 Off Season
The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories
In 1972, The Joy of Sex skyrocketed to the top of the bestseller lists and stayed for most of the decade. It brought the sexual revolution—which had exploded on college campuses a few years before—into the suburbs. Housewives read it and experienced their very first orgasms. Couples pored over it together. Swingers referred to it in conversation with arched eyebrows. The Joy of Sex became the Bible of the American bedroom, and it added new terms to our language: g-string, tongue bath, water works. Yet, though Joy was as much a ’70s superstar as Farrah Fawcett, few people can tell you who wrote it. Its author, Alex Comfort, might be considered one of the greatest and strangest minds of the twentieth century.
This is his story
One day in 1934, he sequestered himself in his family’s greenhouse in London to perform an experiment. Alex Comfort—then 14 years old—had decided to invent his own fireworks. He ground together sugar, sulfur, and saltpeter, an operation so dangerous that most chemists pour water over the ingredients to prevent a blast. Alex neglected to take that precaution. The container exploded. The roof of the greenhouse blew out. A red-tinted vapor hovered in the air before him. Four fingers on his left hand had vanished, leaving a lump of meat with one thumb hanging off it. He felt no pain. Indeed, he found it thrilling to be blown apart.
Or, at least, that’s how he told the story later. Alex Comfort loved explosions, even the one that mutilated him. He never would admit any regret at the loss of his four fingers. As a middle-aged physician, he bragged that his stump could be more useful than a conventional hand, particularly when it came to performing certain medical procedures—exploring a woman’s birth canal, for instance.
One thing was clear after the accident: Alex should avoid laboratories,
at least until he was older. So he set his sights on literary greatness instead.When he was 16, his father took him on a tramp steamer to Buenos Aires and then Senegal; Alex scribbled notes along the way. In 1938, his final year of high school, he published a little gem of a travel book, titled The Silver River, billed as the “diary of a schoolboy.”
When Alex arrived at Cambridge University, the other students stood in awe of him—a published author! He regarded himself as brilliant but ugly. A reed-thin boy in a tweed jacket, he kept his eyes caged behind glittering round glasses and wore a glove on one hand. “I didn’t like to ask him why,” said Robert Greacen, who befriended Alex during his university years. One day, when they shared a train car together, Alex removed the glove, and Greacen noticed the stump, but still didn’t dare mention it.
The truth was, Greacen had fallen under the spell of Alex Comfort. “Even though we were the same age, he seemed like
a man ten or twelve years older than me in ideas, reading
and opinion.” Greacen decided that Alex was the cleverest person he’d ever met.
Indeed. At age 22, Alex began sparring with George Orwell in the pages of Tribune; in rhyming verse, they debated whether Britain should have entered World War II. Alex sneered at the concept of a “good war” and denounced the group-think of the British. He was, already, an anarchist.
Strangely enough, for one so devoted to free thought, Alex remained a...