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

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

Jonathan Gottschall. Penguin Press, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59420-563-7

While working as an adjunct English professor Gottschall (The Storytelling Animal) found himself drawn to the mixed–martial arts (MMA) gym across the street from his office, as this fascinating book describes. Having avoided fights for most of his life, and working in a profession that associates masculinity “with everything oafish, bullying and oppressive,” he felt ready to try something new, particularly since he’d long admired but never himself performed acts of “physical courage.” While beginning his training, Gottschall realized that ritualized, rule-bound competitions—what he calls “the monkey dance”are essential to helping men work out conflicts. With humor, literary allusions, and a casual, unprepossessing style, Gottshall explores such related subjects as duels, bullying, English football, men’s “love-hate” relationship to war, and violent entertainment from gladiator games to MMA. Noting that without a dominant hierarchy, his gym would be a “grisly bloodbath,” he nevertheless finds that his fellow fighters are not at all what he expected. Many are “downright sweet,” and none have gotten into fights outside the cage in years. By the end of Gottschall’s thought-provoking study, he enters his first—and only—official fight after 15 months of training, thinking very differently about masculinity and the rituals of manhood. (Apr.)