A Revealing Look at a "Revealing History of the World's Oldest Profession"


Tyler Stoddard Smith claims that the aim of his book is “to look into some of the shadier corners of human history, and to shed a little light on an eternally compelling figure:  the prostitute.” If you would expect a stiffly academic and detached depiction of prostitution throughout history, you would grossly misjudge Whore Stories: a Revealing History of the World’s Oldest Profession.

From Madame de Pompadour to Kurt Cobain and from Nancy Reagan to Mary Magdalene, Smith provides what he calls an “essentially accurate” look at self-professed, accused and/or acclaimed sex workers. Divided into six chapters, with titles such as “Prominent Pimps and Mandarin Madames” and “Surprise Streetwalkers,” the book contains short passages each featuring a different…well, the author gives a nearly exhaustive list:  “slut, harlot, trick, chickenhawk, rent-boy, trollop, prossy, hooker, gigolo, etc.” And if any of these words offend, prepare to be often and thoroughly offended.

Smith is present in each passage, respectfully and sometimes not so respectfully chronicling each individual with intelligent and blunt humor. It was this savage humor that caused apprehension when I began this book; so many individuals are forced into prostitution, either by desperation or human trafficking, and unable to escape this life that a flippant and comical look at prostitution would not be welcome. Smith sometimes tiptoes this line. But he acknowledges this, however, most acutely in his passage on Bagoas:  “There’s nothing funny about a child being forced into slavery and prostitution, or being castrated, or having to endure getting raped repeatedly by a snot-slinging drunk Alexander the ‘Great.’ In fact, it’s all extraordinarily nauseating. But despite these horrors, Bagoas (the word bagoas means ‘eunuch’ in Old Persian), the catamite slave of King Darius III of Persia and then Alexander, managed to make quite the impression on history.” While I would not accuse Smith of handling delicate subject matters like forced prostitution with a gentle hand, Smith is honest about the focus of this book.  It is not concerned with social justice, fair/unfair circumstances and right or wrong, but rather it is concerned with exploring not only the effect these willing and unwilling individuals have had on the world but also how they were willingly or unwillingly shaped by the world.

The main goal of this book, however, is to entertain. And that it does. The author’s witty and biting voice creates a page-turning atmosphere that will keep you reading to find out exactly how Roseanne Barr or Bob Dylan, for example, fits into this book. It’s full of marginally relevant quotes and asides that can be nonetheless chuckle- and thought-inducing (one such rambling aside begins, “Speaking of crocodiles, sex, and Katherine Hepburn, it’s probably a good idea to turn to birth control for a moment.”), though these asides occasionally run on the pointless side (tell me again, Mr. Smith, what Moses’ exchange with God in Deuteronomy has to do with Dee Dee Ramone?). Overall, as long as your delicate sensibilities will not be disturbed, I’d recommend this for those interested in an amusing read or even as a study in prostitution, as there is enough fact and research to hold up to scrutiny, for the most part (is Facebook a viable research tool?).

Check it out! If for no other reason than to have everyone ask you to repeat yourself when you tell them you're reading Whore Stories. https://cucatalog.org/polaris/search/searchresults.aspx?ctx=6.1033.0.0.7...