The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing

Summary / Reviews / Features / Interviews


How do we come to be who we are sexually? How do we cope with the forces of desire? How can we understand the relationship between the transcendent and the physical, between the wish for love and the anarchy of the erotic?

Daniel Bergner looks for answers in the stories of four people whose longings may be very different from our own: a devoted husband burdened by an insatiable foot fetish, a clothing designer who finds ecstasy in the pain of others, a man smitten with his young stepdaughter, and an advertising director who casts traditionally beautiful models but who is attracted only to amputees. Bergner finds in their desires metaphors for the issues that confront us all and raises fascinating questions about the erotic differences between men and women and the nature of ecstasy itself: Are some people actually experiencing more ecstasy than the rest of us?

In speaking to experts in the field of psychology and neurology, and by threading the personal stories of several modern-day Kinseys throughout his riveting case studies, Bergner has written a provocative, profoundly insightful, and brilliantly illuminating book about the most fundamental of human needs.


"Riveting…Bergner's gift as a writer is his ability to combine the story-telling of a talented novelist with a journalist's skill at standing back and letting his subjects speak for themselves—and to do so with compassion and curiosity rather than judgment…on one level, this book has all the elements of a top-rated HBO series—provocatively graphic sex, humorous dialogue and moral ambiguity. But what makes it so powerful is that it's as much about desire and what's normal as it is an exploration of why we are the way we are…Long after reading these disturbing stories, I can't seem to turn them off."
—Lori Gottlieb, New York Times Book Review

"Elegant portraits…Bergner takes us into the anarchy of lust that consumes his subjects. But the book can't be accused of sensationalism. The last portrait, "The Devotee," is most adamantly a romance. Laura, a woman who has lost both legs in a car accident, meets Ron, the photographer turned on by limbless women. No question that the pair, now married, finds real fulfillment, not only sexually but spiritually…Bergner gives depth and shadow to his subjects' longing."
Washington Post

“Girded with scientific data about the nature of sexual identity, The Other Side of Desire is a foray into extreme passion, in quest of the human soul.”
O Magazine

"Descriptive and finally poetic…Bergner's book has a musical quality. The vignettes form a sequence of theme and variations. The juxtapositions give rise to a host of paradoxes and conundrums."

"Speaking of love and heartbreak, Daniel Bergner’s The Other Side of Desire is just as good as the various rave reviews promise. With a minimum of psychobabble and a maximum of tight-focus unsentimental and unsqueamish reporting, Mr. Bergner tells the story of four people with “abnormal” sex lives: a foot fetishist, a dominatrix, a man obsessed with his stepdaughter and a man sexually attracted to amputees. The reader, of course, is transformed into a voyeur—but the author’s cool authoritative tone and openhearted acceptance of what he’s exposing wash away all taint of kinky vicarious thrill. It’s enough to make you think that in this case, good reporting isn’t just morally neutral. it spreads the love."
New York Observer

"Bergner is the kind of author who is able to delve deeply into the darkest and most forbidden realms of the human psyche and behavior…A consistently engrossing and highly edifying read."
San Francisco Chronicle

"By the end of the book—once the many often inexplicable narratives of desire unfold scene by scene, character by character—the reader is left with a sort of orgasmic and almost dreamy slew of images and (unanswerable) questions. Intermittently, the climax is reached, and humanity hits you in the face. You wonder for a moment, but what of my own sexuality? Am I normal? Is there even such a thing?"
New York Press

"Moving and unsettling…vividly rendered…a meaningful reflection on desire, a need shared by nearly all."
Time Out New York

"Passion is as instinctual as thirst or the need to sleep. While most of us may live on this side of desire, Bergner's book helps us begin to understand the other side…Unblinkingly, Bergner probes these passions with respect and sensitivity, introducing readers to four unusual sexual realities and what meaning they have for the rest of us."
Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Bergner grants us entree into dark worlds of extreme lust and longing: There is the foot fetishist wracked by shame, the dominatrix so turned on by inflicting pain on others that she once roasted a man on a spit, and the stepfather capsized by lust for his 12-year-old stepdaughter. There is even a love story involving amputee fetish. But what's remarkable about Bergner's book is not the way these tales shock or confound or titillate (though they do those things sometimes), but how sympathetic their plights and hungers become. Bergner, whose previous books include God of the Rodeo, about convicts in Louisiana's Angola Prison, is a keen storyteller but above all a humane one, and in his hands, these characters do not seem like freaks so much as shadows of ourselves."

"Delicate but unblinking tales of extreme sexual longing."
Guardian UK

"Daniel Bergner's Characters live in erotic no-go zones where most of us would fear to tread. Their stories will sadden, enlighten, disturb, and move you—for they are completely, intimately human, which is a tribute to Bergner's great skill as a journalist and his understanding that the normal and perverse exist not in separate worlds but on a discomfiting, even threatening continuum."
—George Packer, New York Times bestselling author of The Assassin's Game

"Searching, deeply humane…Our reactions to the stories Daniel Bergner recounts reveal as much about ourselves as they do about his oddly winning subjects."
—Jennifer Egan, bestselling author of The Keep

"In a culture that pays clamourous lip service to the idea of tolerance, Daniel Bergner's The Other Side of Desire is that rare instance of the real thing. The author levels a curious yet compassionate gaze at his subjects, who grapple with the way desire disfigures and exalts. In their struggle to accept themselves for wanting what they want, they are desperate and often heroic figures."
—Will Blythe, author of To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever

"Bergner investigates how we become who we are sexually, whether our lusts are common or improbable. The book's combination of titillation, shock value and documentary evokes a set of page-turning conundrums."
Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"In carefully etched prose, Bergner unpacks the tightly twisted roots of desire, power seeking, self-hatred and theatricality that motivate his four pseudonymous subjects…Compassionate wisdom about dark needs."
Kirkus Reviews

"This arresting book…lures readers into a journey to unanticipated corners of human longing."
Library Journal


Surveying the Outer Reaches of Lust

New York Times
January 24, 2009

Sexual Perversity in America

January 27, 2009


Daniel Bergner on Charlie Rose

March 26, 2009

Daniel Bergner on NPR's All Things Considered

March 19, 2009

Q&A with Daniel Bergner on

February 5, 2009

HarperCollins Studio Interview with Daniel Bergner

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3