Four new titles offer deep dives into decidedly niche but surprisingly rich topics, from female ejaculation and silk to borderline personality disorder and the devil.

Juice: A History of Female Ejaculation

Stephanie Haerdle, trans. from the German by Elisabeth Lauffer. MIT, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-262-04851-4
Gender studies researcher Haerdle debuts with a bracing cultural history that traces shifting perspectives on the sexual fluids of women and people with vulvas from antiquity through the present. In ancient China, “female gushes” from orgasms were believed to have healing and restorative powers for the woman’s partner, and in India, Tantric Buddhists claimed the goddess Kubjika created the universe from her ejaculation. By contrast, ancient Greek and Roman texts disregarded female pleasure, considering women “a flawed version of men” whose sexual expulsions were underdeveloped imitations of semen. Eighteenth-century efforts to scientifically prove differences between the male and female body led male scientists to deride the previously widespread “notion of a shared seminal fluid” for suggesting a likeness between the sexes, generating skepticism around the existence of female ejaculation that continues to this day (Haerdle notes that it’s been illegal to show squirting in British pornography since 2004 because lawmakers insist such scenes actually depict urination, which is banned). The eye-opening history sheds light on how women’s sexual pleasure has been the site of controversy and contestation for millennia, and the overview of contemporary research enlightens, as when Haerdle explains that female ejaculation has been found to consist of two distinct fluids, one a viscous secretion from the “female prostate” and the other a “watery liquid produced in the bladder,” distinct from urine. Readers will be captivated. Photos. (Apr.)

Borderline: The Biography of a Personality Disorder

Alexander Kriss. Beacon, $28.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8070-0781-5
Borderline personality disorder, defined today as a “pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity,” was misunderstood long before its 1980 addition to the DSM, contends Fordham University assistant psychology professor Kriss (The Gaming Mind) in this stimulating study. According to the author, the disorder has remained elusive partly because of the medical establishment’s reluctance to acknowledge links between societal power imbalances, trauma, and mental illness. Meanwhile, BPD’s prevalence in women—who represent roughly 75% of diagnoses—further drove its stigmatization. Kriss details how the condition is unfairly typified in popular culture by “wild, promiscuous people... who abuse substances, threaten suicide and fly into rages,” when for many, the borderline experience is a subtler, “chameleon-like” one, and often leads sufferers to slip through the cracks of established diagnostic and treatment practices. While the history of the disorder’s “status as an outlier” from fifth century BCE to 1885 (before the birth of psychoanalysis) is dispatched in a single, breakneck chapter, on the whole this is an enterprising and in-depth exploration of who decides what it means to be ill, how mental illness is framed in cultural narratives, and who gets shut out of those narratives. It’s an ambitious reassessment of an understudied condition. (Apr.)

Silk: A World History

Aarathi Prasad. Morrow, $32.50 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-316025-5
Over time, many individuals and cultures have independently discovered how to make silk, according to this illuminating history from bioarcheologist Prasad (In the Bonesetter’s Waiting Room). The fabric, prized for its beauty, is also one of the strongest biologically produced materials; it was even used to make the first bulletproof vest (for Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who fatefully neglected to wear it on the day of his assassination in 1914). Most famously harvested from a species of silkworm (a moth in its larval stage, attempting to spin a cocoon) that was domesticated in ancient China, silk can also be derived from spiders and mollusks. In a narrative keenly focused on scientific fieldwork and invention, Prasad tells the story of silk’s development mostly through profiles of naturalists and detailed descriptions of archaeological finds. Subjects include Dutch scientist-illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian, who in 1699 traveled to Suriname and collected specimens of silk-producing moth species that later helped Holland compete with China’s carefully guarded silk industry, and the 20th-century archaeological discovery of ancient Rome’s reliance on mollusk-silk. Prasad concludes by spotlighting current innovations in medicine and tech involving silk, and points to the fabric’s radical potential in a world that wants to ween itself off plastics. Thanks to her elegant prose, the book’s deeply informed scientific explanations are charming and accessible. Readers will revel in this exquisite deep dive. (Apr.)

The Devil’s Best Trick: How the Face of Evil Disappeared

Randall Sullivan. Atlantic Monthly, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1913-1
Why have so many cultures believed in the devil? In this gonzo and sometimes chilling account, Sullivan (Graveyard of the Pacific), a longtime contributing editor to Rolling Stone, entertains the idea that it’s because the devil really exists. Dividing his narrative into two parts, Sullivan first reports on the 1988 death of Tate Rowland in Childress, Tex.—a suspicious suicide that locals became convinced was a satanic ritual—then recaps a journey to Catemaco, Mexico, to witness a famous Black Mass. Interspersed throughout are histories of the devil in religion and art (touching on the likes of William Blake and Charles Baudelaire), and profiles of such unsavory individuals as 19th-century Freemason and alleged KKK founder Albert Pike—long regarded a “satanic pope” by conspiracy theorists—and 1970s serial killer Lawrence Bittaker. Through it all, Sullivan remains “committed to a consideration of the Devil... as an actuality,” and even reports a hair-raising in-person meet-up, claiming to have exchanged words with the “elegantly dressed... gent” himself as he passed by in a crowded plaza (“I’ll catch you later,” the devil said). The book’s most entertaining writing is memoiristic, as Sullivan throws himself into the Catemaco adventure with self-deprecating humor, but what holds it all together is a sincere yearning to understand evil. It’s a dizzying plunge into darkness in search of moral clarity. (May)