A General Theory of Love

A General Theory of Love

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by Thomas Lewis, Richard Lannon, Fari Amini

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Drawing comparisons to the most eloquent science writing of our day, three eminent psychiatrists tackle the difficult task of reconciling what artists and thinkers have known for thousands of years about the human heart with what has only recently been learned about the primitive functions of the human brain. The result is an original, lucid, at times moving


Drawing comparisons to the most eloquent science writing of our day, three eminent psychiatrists tackle the difficult task of reconciling what artists and thinkers have known for thousands of years about the human heart with what has only recently been learned about the primitive functions of the human brain. The result is an original, lucid, at times moving account of the complexities of love and its essential role in human well-being.

A General Theory of Love draws on the latest scientific research to demonstrate that our nervous systems are not self-contained: from earliest childhood, our brains actually link with those of the people close to us, in a silent rhythm that alters the very structure of our brains, establishes life-long emotional patterns, and makes us, in large part, who we are. Explaining how relationships function, how parents shape their child’s developing self, how psychotherapy really works, and how our society dangerously flouts essential emotional laws, this is a work of rare passion and eloquence that will forever change the way you think about human intimacy.

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From the Publisher
"In elegant prose…[the authors] argue why we need a culture attuned to the ways of the heart."–Entertainment Weekly

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.59(d)

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What is love, and why are some people unable to find it? What is loneliness, and why does it hurt? What are relationships, and how and why do they work the way they do?

Answering these questions, laying bare the heart's deepest secrets, is this book's aim. Since the dawn of our species, human beings in every time and place have contended with an unruly emotional core that behaves in unpredicted and confusing ways. Science has been unable to help them. The Western world's first physician, Hippocrates, proposed in 450 B.C. that emotions emanate from the brain. He was right-but for the next twenty-five hundred years, medicine could offer nothing further about the details of emotional life. Matters of the heart were matters only for the arts-literature, song, poetry, painting, sculpture, dance. Until now.

The past decade has seen an explosion of scientific discoveries about the brain, the leading edge of a revolution that promises to change the way we think about ourselves, our relationships, our children, and our society. Science can at last turn its penetrating gaze on humanity's oldest questions. Its revelations stand poised to shatter more than a few modern assumptions about the inner workings of love.

Traditional versions of the mind hold that Passion is a troublesome remnant from humanity's savage past, and the intellectual subjugation of emotion is civilization's triumph. Logical but dubious derivations follow: emotional maturity is synonymous with emotional restraint. Schools can teach children missing emotional skills just as they impart the facts of geometry or history. To feel better, outthink your stubborn and recalcitrant heart. So says convention.

In this book, we demonstrate that where intellect and emotion clash, the heart often has the greater wisdom. In a pleasing turnabout, science-Reason's right hand-is proving this so. The brain's ancient emotional architecture is not a bothersome animal encumbrance. Instead, it is nothing less than the key to our lives. We live immersed in unseen forces and silent messages that shape our destinies. As individuals and as a culture, our chance for happiness depends on our ability to decipher a hidden world that revolves-invisibly, improbably, inexorably-around love.

From birth to death, love is not just the focus of human experience but also the life force of the mind, determining our moods, stabilizing our bodily rhythms, and changing the structure of our brains. The body's physiology ensures that relationships determine and fix our identities. Love makes us who we are, and who we can become. In these pages, we explain how and why this is so.

During the long centuries when science slumbered, humanity relied on the arts to chronicle the heart's mysterious ways. That accumulated wisdom is not to be disdained. This book, while traveling deep into the realm of science, keeps close at hand the humanism that renders such a journey meaningful. The thoughts of researchers and empiricists join those of poets, philosophers, and kings. Their respective starting points may be disparate in space, time, and temperament, but the voices in this volume rise and converge toward a common goal.

Every book, if it is anything at all, is an argument: an articulate arrow of words, fledged and notched and newly anointed with sharpened stone, speeding through paragraphs to its shimmering target. This book-as it elucidates the shaping power of parental devotion, the biological reality of romance, the healing force of communal connection-argues for love. Turn the page, and the arrow is loosed. The heart it seeks is your own.

Meet the Author

Thomas Lewis, M.D.  is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, and a former associate director of the Affective Disorders Program there. Dr. Lewis currently divides his time between writing, private practice, and teaching at the UCSF medical school. He lives in Sausalito, California.

Fari Amini, M.D. is a professor of psychiatry at the UCSF School of Medicine. Born and raised in Iran, he graduated from medical school at UCSF and has served on the faculty there for thirty-three years. Dr. Amini is married, has six children, and lives in Ross, California.

Richard Lannon, M.D. is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCSF School of Medicine. In 1980, Dr. Lannon founded the Affective Disorders Program at UCSF, a pioneering effort to integrate psychological concepts with the emerging biology of the brain. Dr. Lannon is married and the father of two; he lives in Greenbrae, California.

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A General Theory of Love 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I see that a few people did not connect with the book. I believe that may have more to do with the place where they are in their lives than the book. I have been working with a therapist for quite a while now. This is the first book I have brought to her and asked her to read (there is one chapter that focuses heavily on the process of therapy). The book is so beautifully written - I don't agree with the person who said it was poorly written. The authors clearly understand science, emotion, and creativity. If you are looking for a book that helps you understand how your biology and early life experiences affect your emotions and relationships as an adult, or if you are a parent or parent-to-be and want to find out how you can give your child the best possible advantage for a healthy emotional life, this book is a must-read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Deep,poetic and scientific.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not an enjoyable read for me. If you like to read "Modern neuroscience has been equally culpable of propagating an unappealing and soulless reductionism." this might be your kind of book. I was hoping for answer's about love and loneliness and why it hurt's. I do not enjoy all the big words & metaphor's. Like the poem in chapter one, you understand the deeper meaning or you don't. I did get the poem and enjoyed that much better. In my opinion, I don't even think these doctors will give their book to family members for a gift. Most people would not enjoy the way it is written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The information in this book is interesting and informative. It is written well, and it includes many exciting stories that I have added into the list of topics that I discuss with friends. This book is not a self-help manual. The reader will not find ways in which to improve his own cercumstances without professional help. I highly recommend this book for people who seek more information on how we communicate.
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Nicholas_E_Sparks More than 1 year ago
I greatly admire the leap of faith, aspiring to explain a concept via biology, and I was instantly drawn to the book; however, this book, in all its physiological depth, fails to connect the physical processes with the abstract suppositions of love and does not even approach the hard questions, let alone answer them. The reader is left to draw the real conclusions. Whether love is truly abstract or merely the result of chemical and neural changes is not the central question, but in order for the authors to adequately connect the dots with the reader, they must tie their biological theories with subjectivity. Without such a tie, the book is just short of influential, reading like a textbook and playing it safe within the confines of pure biology.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Taking a scientific approach, this book explains the biology of love without diminishing its importance. In fact, it reveals the deep and lasting value of love like nothing I have ever read before.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This wasn't an easy read for me, but I also couldn't put it down. By the way, I'm not a psychologist or anyone who needs this information professionally. It explains so much and is so beautifully written. At times I just wished I could read it aloud to someone. This book has changed how I look at attachments and feelings towards other people, as well as mysterious shifts in my own mood. I don't agree with every conclusion the authors make, but I am persuaded about this new lens through which to view attachments. I think this is one of the most important books I've read since college (which was a long, long time ago). This one is a keeper to be read and re-read and shared and discussed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have used the knowledge gained from this book repeatedly in my coaching practice, as I help people unlearn sabotaging strategies, and start doing things that work. When you read this book, you will understand why we are the way we are, why we do what we do, why we get stuck, and why we do self-defeating things -- our choice of 'love,' and love partner being just two incidents of this. More importantly, you will learn how you can change. Written by 3 psychiatrists, one of whom writes like a poet, the book is easy to understand, not overly academic, and beautifully written -- lyrical at times. I loved the poetry and quotations and the heart and soul of the book. You'll learn more about your emotions, and, since we are our emotions, what's more important to know about? I reommend this book highly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am an avid nonfiction and self help books reader, and now w/a nook, I devour books like teens w/pizza. However, this is my first book review, b/c having read this, it irritated me so much that I felt compelled to post and warn others away from having a similar disappointment. This is the most boring and unhelpful book I've read in recent memory. Not only are the 'general theories' not presenting anything new (attachment styles influenced by primary care taker during formative years and all they basically comment is 'be careful of that, be attuned with and attentive to your kids' needs', and 'tsk tsk' type social commentaries w/little suggestion for recourse), but the writing style is so unnecessarily arduous to read, it seemed like the 3 authors were trying to one up each other by sounding smarter than the other, leaving the reader with very little substance, insight or practical information to show for the (what should be enjoyable but instead) painful work of getting through this book. Further, I found very little content related to the topic of love. It was neither philosophical, psychological, nor interesting... more so technical, disjointed compilations of research that makes no great point and rampant with pointless redundancies. My two thumbs are down for this book, along with an angry scowl. A measure of success to me would be finishing this book, esp. One with a title like this, leaving me feeling inspired, reflective, insight gained, and smiling... by that measure, this book was a total and complete fail. I want my money back!!! I recommend Scott Peck's The Road Less Travelled (and I believe subject book tried to adopt similar approach as this one, using quotes, mythologies, etc. To open chapters/topics with... but the intrigue and relatedness are weak at best) and How We Fall in Love (forgot author's name... believe it's Paul)... But anyhow, save yourselves time, money and aggravation and pass this one... and I say this with complete sincerity, even Dr. Suess books hold more profound insights than this. I'm a book lover... except for this one!!! A book on love should not make me feel this angry and hateful after reading it!!!!!