The first thing to tell you about this book is to tell you what it isn't. Firstly, this is NOT a work of erotic fiction. To be sure, this book includes many short excerpts from historical erotic texts, but they are always used to back up the arguments of the author. Secondly, this book is NOT a clinical analysis of flagellation. The theories of Havelock Ellis, Krafft-Ebing and yes, Freud, are discussed in one brief chapter, but the work of psycho-analysts do not dominate this book.
Instead, this book is a rational, journalistic investigation into the human flagellatory impulse. It also sets itself apart from every other book on this subject by avoiding any knee-jerk prejudices and refusing to condemn "this filthy vice" outright. The author keeps an open mind, and seeks to understand, rather than to judge. "I do not regard the flagellatory impulse per se as disgusting" says Anthony. "[The] purpose of this book is to offer another, rather more benign, certainly broader, view of flagellation." In pursuit of this aim, Anthony's approach is to break his book into three parts:
Part One tackles "this filthy vice" head on. Anything bad that has ever been said about flagellation is found here. Anthony briefly outlines the history of flagellation and demonstrates why this topic is still taboo in mainstream society. Although Anthony applauds the abolition of corporal punishment in schools, he makes a very convincing (and rational) case for "reasonable and judicious" corporal punishment of children in the home. After a brief clinical chapter in which the author gives the nod to the theories of Ellis, he outlines the use of flagellation in modern and historical literature. Part one of "Thy Rod and Staff" is an illuminating and enlightening read.
In Part Two, Anthony tackles the major issue - erotic flagellation. Here, the author gets down to the specifics of what flagellants actually do. The various male and female "dominant" personas (The No Nonsense Lover, The Governess), the scenarios in which they operate, the implements and costumes they use - and how all of the above combine to make up a flagellatory encounter, are discussed. If you are so inclined, yes, you will find the various erotic excerpts here sexually arousing. This excellent part of the book is full of hints for those couples who wish to indulge in flagellatory practices. Far from being an act of giving and receiving pain, Anthony demonstrates that in reality, erotic flagellation is a form of love.
Finally, Part Three attempts to set the deeds of flagellants against society as a whole. Anthony argues here that we are all being fed a diet of sadistic material by our mass media, and despite the fact that mainstream society is, in many ways "sadomasochistic," flagellants will continue to remain one of the scapegoats for western society's ills. Anthony rightly considers this a tragedy, especially when you consider that "What flagellants actually do is easily enough stated: they smack each other's bottoms."
My only criticism of this book is the occasionally gaseous prose. Anthony's book employs some grandiose terminology here and there, but fortunately, it does not detract from the central message in his writing.
This book also comes with an extensive bibliography of flagellatory sources, as well as footnotes. There are also a collection of well chosen illustrations which document the use of flagellation throughout history. Taken as a whole, this is a learned, rational and humane book. It is essential reading for everyone with a serious interest in this topic. One can only hope that Anthony's plea for tolerance is taken up by other authors.