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A Natural History of Love

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  1,345 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
The bestselling author of A Natural History of the Senses now explores the allure of adultery, the appeal of aphrodisiacs, and the cult of the kiss. Enchantingly written and stunningly informed, this "audaciously brilliant romp through the world of romantic love" (Washington Post Book World) is the next best thing to love itself.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Kindle Edition, 358 pages
Published (first published February 21st 1994)
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Oct 15, 2013 Theresa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I couldn't drag myself through the rest of this book. I got about 75% through it, and that was only by skimming. The writing is horribly florid and overwrought, with only the faintest sprinkling of "history" spread so far and few amongst the pages that the only reason I kept turning them was in an attempt to find something interesting.

I think I would have known to stay away if the title was more accurate, like "A History of Stuff Diane Ackerman Rambles on About Like A Well-Spoken Stoner."
rose vibrations
Feb 01, 2012 rose vibrations rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
I decided to write my very first review for this book but GoodReads decided that it would be a fabulous idea to no longer function after I clicked the "submit" button. Thanks, GoodReads.

Maybe it's a sign that I'm really awful at writing reviews and should just stick to rating books while brooding in my dark, quiet corner of the world.

Alas, I'll leave you with this:

Love feeds a million watchfires in the encampment of the body

Love it or leave it.
Mar 06, 2008 Tj rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tj by: Alice
Shelves: informative
The historical background on love through the ages, and in different cultures was really interesting (granted it was very Western) and followed a nice progression from ancient Greece to the Victorian era.

After awhile the book moves into musings on love, which though interesting, I thought went on too long. Honestly I just skimmed most of them, they were so long.

I would have liked more of the actual history, and more perspectives from different parts of the world.
Feb 05, 2016 Marrie rated it really liked it
There was a sad lack of representation of non-heternormative romantic relationships in this book, and some of the ideas about gender and how it fits in society are quite outdated. Those are the only qualms I have with this book, though. Otherwise, it's a very good, informative book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I can forgive the book it's faults since it was written in the early nineties and things have changed a bit since then.
Love seems the perfect topic for a writer like Diane Ackerman to tackle -- her writing is frilly, juicy, bursting with enthusiasm for her subject. Best so far is her explanation of the knight's role with his lady: lingering in the deliciousness of physical desire, playing peek-a-boo with certain body parts, titillating but rarely touching -- all in the name of adding a spice to the Lady's eroticless marriage and elevating the knight's virtue! Yum! If I smoked, I'd need a cigarette after reading ...more
Brett Kistler
This book has a lot of really interesting content. The skirt-chasing habits of Benjamin Franklin in France, the hilariously naîve modern marriage traditions (such as the fact that groomsmen were first introduced to the marriage event during kidnap-weddings to prevent the bride's angry family from rescuing her before the deed was done), the prevalence of open(-esque) relationships throughout history, and even a little neurochemistry.

The author is savvy enough to frequently jump out of certain exi
Feb 08, 2016 Hien rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book when I found it in a local used book store.

I was obsessed and read ravenously through the first couple of sections.

-A Long Desire: The History of Love
-The Heart is a Lonely Heart: Ideas About Love
-All Fires the Fire: The Nature of Love

Because I'm one of those scatter-brained readers, I paused there. Months later, I picked it back up and felt disappointed once I got to the section A Necessary Passion: The Erotics of Love...

Diane's prose is wordy, lovely, and sensational. When sh
David Lam
I felt as if Ackerman's prose was too florid and flowery, which made reading the book somewhat of a slogfest. I enjoyed seeing the historical aspects of love in the first part of the book, but even then, she would take her asides and ramble about tangential topics until one lost track of the original thread.

Another issue I had (which is somewhat to be understood given when this book was written) was how little it covered LGBTQ and other spectrums of sex. For Ackerman, love and sex go hand-in-ha
Dec 23, 2015 Rituleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ackerman, in this 1993 non-fiction book, takes the reader through the history of love and its many variations through different euro-centric cultures. She wanders from ancient Egypt to Grecian and Roman love; and to courtly love and modern love (re: the 90s). Ackerman also touches on the science of love and why it is such a necessary emotion to the prosperity of the human race.

The prose as well as her stories related to love and its variations is enough to keep a reader engaged throughout the 3
Valentina Tkachenko
Partially my own fault for not liking it, I was really hoping for an actual history book. Too little scholarship, too much of the author's musings on love. Then again, that's my taste - it might be great for others. Has some well written passages.
I decided to stop reading about a third of the way through. I just lost interest.
Christy S
Jan 27, 2014 Christy S rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
A favorite-- This is poetry and science dancing together.

Ackerman’s words paint pictures in your mind as you read them, and always seem to present complex information with surprising ease. She has written a plethora of poetry as well as a broad spectrum of non-fiction, books that always seem to master the art of quality, entertaining writing about subjects in natural science without making them seem like science at all. With her poet’s ear for sentences and a teaching tone, she brings science t
Darrin Clutteur
Feb 04, 2015 Darrin Clutteur rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the 4th or 5th book I haw read by Ms. Ackerman and I can't speak highly enough of her ability to invoke all of the senses in her reader. Her writing is so smooth and intelligent. I have to admit this topic (love) isn't one I would normally read about. I tend to enjoy non-fiction, scientific writing (which she has a few books in this realm). However, there is an underlying sensuality in all of her writing. So I figured if anyone could write about "love" and keep me from feeling like I was ...more
Scott J.
Oct 03, 2007 Scott J. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting, quick-moving study of the biological, evolutionary, and anthropological ramifications of the fact that humans are (or at least are now) hard-wired to love each other.

Ackerman does a good job of steering clear of anything that smacks of sappy romance or warm fuzzy reassurance that "everything will be OK because we're all programmed for love. Let's everyone get stoned and fuck." If one is going to take a serious look at the vague concept of love as a biological function (and claim
Mark Valentine
Jan 17, 2016 Mark Valentine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ackerman has a remarkable gift for writing exact prose that communicates expertly. She uses a broad range of topics to answer her questions about love and I found this an informational, inspirational book.
Apr 09, 2008 Jeanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was alternately bored to tears and completely fascinated by this book. And it took me forever to read. But in the end, it was a highly enlightening endeavor.

Explaining love in terms of evolutionary imperatives and chemical reactions isn't exactly romantic, but makes so much sense. I was disappointed, though, that while Ackerman touched on many of the "hows" and "whys" of love, one lingering question was not answered: Why are we attracted to one person over another? What exactly sets those chem
Aug 25, 2015 Tiffany rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Full of interesting facts and vignettes, but way, way purple... several times I found myself wondering if Ackerman was writing a book about history and physiology, or a rhapsody.
Tim Sutton
I didn't like this as much as The Natural History of the Senses. I wanted to, but perhaps the subject matter wasn't as interesting to me. I didn't finish reading it.
Urban Crow
diane ackerman takes on the subject of love, much as she has taken on other subjects as an author of creative non-fiction over the years, and explores the history, physiology and mythologies of this romantic subject. as always, ackerman proves that the world of nonfiction need not be non-literate or staid, as her writing carries a certain lyrical quality and poetic sensibility i always enjoy. this was not my favourite of her books, and it may be that the subject matter is just not that interesti ...more
I picked up this book from my shelf-- apparently I have already read it... but I have no memory of it! From rereading the first couple of chapters, though, I'm not sure I'd give it as many as 3 stars. She seems to proceed without first defining what she means by "love." Is it a feeling? Is it hormones? An emotional state? Is it something you DO? A close reader (or someone who has read a whole lot about "love") will notice that she uncritically bounces around between different conceptions of love ...more
Maggie Campbell
"Love makes mania respectable."

"I did not mean to be diverted from my path by pleasure; I couldn't help myself. In the same way, love distracts one from the tidiest plans, the narrowest course, the clearest goals."

"Wouldn't it make more sense to believe that when love brings two people together they are a community of two, not a compound of one?"

"The loves of two people in love with each other are seldom the same."

"Fear, too, is crucial to love. Certainty, familiarity, complacency- they all lead
Nov 30, 2014 Maijabeep rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: culture, love
A lot of the cultural criticism in this book is dated, which is unfortunate, because Ackerman is a beautiful writer, and when you get to a section that is less reliant on old information, her prose really sings. I particularly enjoyed the section on great thinkers on love, especially Proust and Freud. The book also suffers from some incredibly gender essentialist themes*, and pretty heteronormative.

*I kind of loved when she talked about the horses as the universal symbol for female sexuality an
Apr 24, 2013 Linda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I expected to learn more reading this book. Early on the book, she uses the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as an example of desire. At the end of the section, she has a riff on what the myth could mean. It didn't ring true to me, it was if she left out something essential. It made me read the rest of the book with an awareness that I was questioning her interpretations. I kept thinking: If I didn't get much out of or even agree with her interpretation of a story I know well, how could I trust her ...more
While there are a few very interesting facts regarding love, sex, and history, Ackerman's metaphors border on the ridiculously cheesy. Several times in the course of reading, I found myself rolling my eyes and yelling, "oh my gawdddd!!!! are you (expletive deleted) serious?!" I would post a few examples if I were in the mood to wince and cringe, but I just ate.

*ALSO, I am thoroughly perplexed by the use of such antiquated terms as "discos" (as a plural noun) in a contemporary context. In a book
Jul 12, 2007 Mads rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I find that when reading this book and "Natural History of the Senses" back-to-back, this one suffers in comparison. But after re-reading this on its own, I find it to be as brilliant--at certain parts she's on the edge of sappiness--but I guess when the subject is love, it takes a lot of talent to not get sappy and melodramatic. Any writer deciding to take on this tricky subject ought to have a strong stomach and get ready for the brick-bats. On the second reading, I noticed that the book start ...more
Michelle Nogales
It was okay. Even good in spots. But Ackerman really just barely hits the high spots everywhere and doesn't go into any depth anywhere, and frequently fails to make her case as a result, and in the end it didn't hold my attention.
Jul 27, 2007 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who is interested in the historical context of love
Diane Ackerman covers the history of love from Egypt through the present, examining the origins of rituals like marriage and where love comes from. It's a pretty ambitious topic, but the delicious details in the book--like that giving a "toast" comes from medieval times when people would put actual bread in the glass and drink until the liquid was gone--make it a fascinating and extremely educational read. If you need cool facts to spout at a cocktail party or are just a hopeful romantic, this b ...more
Dawn Lamm
Only when you're twenty will this book make sense
A LOVEly (!) read! A Natural History of the Senses is one of my all-time favorite books and while this one wasn't quite as delicious (!), it was a pleasure and fascinating to read. And yes, one of the things I learned was that the word "fascinating" comes from the Greek (I think) word for "penis" and I think of that every single time I say or write the word "fascinating" ~ which is, as it turns out, a lot.
Shane Moore
A thoughtful, thorough, and at times meandering look at the history of how people have thought and talked about love through the ages. Personally I preferred the historical and etymological asides to the descriptions of personal experiences, which ranged from the slightly silly (an inside description of the stereotypical love of horses by women) to the sadly sentimental.
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Diane Ackerman has been the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to many other awards and recognitions for her work, which include the best-selling The Zookeeper’s Wife and A Natural History of the Senses. She lives with her husband Paul West in Ithaca, New York.
More about Diane Ackerman...

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“When I set a glass prism on a windowsill and allow the sun to flood through it, a spectrum of colors dances on the floor. What we call "white" is a rainbow of colored rays packed into a small space. The prism sets them free. Love is the white light of emotion.” 57 likes
“Of all the errands life seems to be running, of all the mysteries that enchant us, love is my favorite” 25 likes
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