An English professor starts training in mixed martial arts, exploring the science and history behind the violence of men
When a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym opens across the street from his office, Jonathan Gottschall sees a challenge. Pushing forty, out of shape, and disenchanted with his job as an adjunct English professor, he works up his nerve and finds himself training for an all-out cage fight. He sees it not just as a personal test, but also as an opportunity to answer questions that have intrigued him for years: Why do men fight? And why do so many seemingly decent people love to watch?
In The Professor in the Cage, Gottschall’s unlikely journey from the college classroom to the fighting cage drives an important new investigation into the science and history of violence. The surging popularity of MMA—a full-contact sport in which fighters punch, choke, and kick each other into submission—is just one example of our species’ insatiable interest both in violence and in the rituals that keep violence in check. From duels to football to the roughhousing of children, humans are masters of what Gottschall calls the monkey dance: a dizzying variety of rule-bound contests that establish hierarchies while minimizing risk and social disorder. Gottschall’s unsparing odyssey—through extremes of pain, occasional humiliation, his wife’s incredulity, and ultimately his own cage fight—opens his, and our, eyes to the uncomfortable truth that, as brutal as these contests can be, the world would be a much more chaotic and dangerous place without them.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
With humor, literary allusions, and a casual, unprepossessing style, Gottschall explores such related subjects as duels, bullying, English football, men's "love-hate" relationship to war, and violent entertainment from gladiator games to MMA." Biographile
"The Professor in the Cage is not just Gottschall's story, but a look at the history of violence itself.... you read Gottschall getting smarter and smarter about his subject as he gets closer and closer to risking his life in the cage."
"Gottschall's writing proves much smoother and easier to digest than the mayhem he undertakes in the cage. He buttresses his work, as all academics do, with 35 pages of endnotes and bibliography, attesting to the research he undertook to complement his road to the ring. The reader learns why animals fight, why women don't, and why eye contact and facial expressions often win bouts before the bell rings."
Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature
"What a charming and illuminating book! With scientific acumen and literary panache, Gottschall immerses himself, and us, in an ancient part of the male psyche. Among the many treats in this book are the history of recreational fighting, a limpid explanation of sexual selection, and a sympathetic portrayal of working-class men that's worthy of a great novelist."
Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, and Waking Up
"Jonathan Gottschall has written a wonderfully honest, entertaining, and insightful book about violence, manhood, courage, and the wisdom that can be gleaned from getting punched in the face. If you've ever wondered why combat is a perennial source of fascination for us, and whether this fascination can be channeled toward truly productive ends, The Professor in the Cage is the book to read."
From the Hardcover edition.