Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers

By Mike Edison Soft Skull. 324 pp. Paperback, $15.95

It’s clear from the first pages of “ Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! ” that Mike Edison considers himself an expert pornographer. He’s written two dozen pornographic novels, contributed to Hustler and Penthouse and served as editor-in-chief of Screw. In his editorial capacities, he “looked at naked girls — some of them startlingly beautiful — all day long,” he explains. “I went on photo shoots and went to dozens of go-go bars and strip clubs.”

‘Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!” by Mike Edison. (Soft Skull)

“Dirty! Dirty! Dirty,” a history of the porn industry and its characters, is authoritatively written and astonishingly well, um, researched. Edison traces the history of porn from the Stone Age to Alfred Kinsey’s research on sex; from “Deep Throat”’s spectacular box office success to the rise, fall and rise again of the skin magazine.

The central characters of Edison’s book are the “Mount Rushmore of Sleaze”: Playboy’s robe-donning Hugh Hefner, Hustler’s vulgar Larry Flynt, Penthouse’s amber-tinted Bob Guccione and Screw’s behemoth of obscenity, Al Goldstein. All four became millionaires several times over, Edison writes, because they learned “to spin the dross of the male libido into gold.” Hefner made his fortune by obsessing on the “girl next door.” Penthouse capitalized on voyeurism and innovation. Hustler was brash, willing to publish nearly anything that stimulated a man’s senses. And Screw printed everything — everything — in between. Its founder, Goldstein, once bragged that “our photographs are filthier and our stories more disgusting.”

Edison’s narrative is breezy, easy to ready, often comical, but decidedly loose. Early in the book, Edison defines “kayfabe” as an “old carny word” that describes the circus and porn industry “illusion that everything you see is real.” The same can be said for this book, which has some factual inaccuracies. One example occurs when Edison declares that Guccione died on Oct. 10, 2010. The truth is that he died 10 days later. A real expert on porn would have known that.

T. Rees Shapiro