A General Theory of Love
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A General Theory of Love

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  2,130 ratings  ·  284 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 9th 2001 by Vintage (first published 2000)
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Dec 04, 2013 Manny rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who's ever had their heart broken
Recommended to Manny by: Barney
Shelves: science
I found this book fascinating, but, since it concerns a subject I know little about, I have a hard time evaluating its reliability. The initial idea, which I have seen many times before, is that our brains are divided into three main parts: the "reptilian brain" (basic functions), the "mammal brain" (emotions), and the "human brain" (abstract thought). Love is a function of the "mammal brain", the limbic system, and is essential to the formation of relationships, in particular parental relations...more
I'm plugging through this in hopes of gleaning something for a particular study, but it is a bit of a slog, thanks mostly to the authors' writing style. I'm all for creative analogies, but these authors seem to particularly like mixed and inappropriate metaphors: "The young brain teems with far more neurons than it ultimately keeps. Most of these bloomers die out over the course of childhood as luxuriantly populated scaffolds slim down to leaner templates". So the brain is a pond that can own th...more
Gilbert 04
This book was an eye-opening experience for me. Since my early teens, I've established a pattern of being in relationships that start out on a high and then eventually deteriorate and fail. I've never understood why I involve myself-a successful, intelligent, generally happy person--with people who leave me dissatisfied, feeling worthless, and convinced that I should just give up and relegate myself to a Lonely Pasific Sea. "A General Theory of Love" enlightened me. Not in some namby-pamby, self...more
An amazing book written by 3 doctors about the human brain and the 'home' of emotions. Did you know we have three brains? Reptile, limbic and neocortic? It's a fascinating read and a must read for anyone with chronic love and relationship problems. Uh, who could that be?
The bonus is that it is a literary feat (the language is highly sophisticated and beautiful) besides being a deliciously new theory on brain chemistry, experiments, and evidence that LOVE is really the answer. No joke.
Mar 18, 2009 Forrest rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: folks puzzled by relationships.
Three MDs (psychotherapists) conspired to write this book. Between them, perhaps 50 years of formal schooling... so in a sense, I learned nothing from this book compared to what these guys know. What I GOT was a pretty damned good model to use in explaining some mysteries of emotional interactions in humans that dovetails with my long standing interest in (and subscription to) the concepts of social biology.

The reptilian, limbic and neocortical brains animate humans, according to the authors. Ou...more
This book approaches the subject of love and bonding from the perspective of various science disciplines; but don't think that makes it cold, clinical, and reductionist. I found the writing to be almost poetically beautiful, the thinking expansive and compassionate, and the information fascinating. My copy is full of huge yellow highlighted passages. The book discusses many varieties of love, how bonding affects the brain, and how critical the process is to our evolution as human beings. Publish...more
I adore a non-fiction book that uses beautiful language. A General Theory of Love is such a book. The three authors (all M.D.s) speak with one beautifully unified voice about what science is learning about the brain and about love and the brain.

One of the topics I found fascinating regards Freudian psychology. Freud developed his theories of psychology (id, ego, superego, repressed memories, Oedipal complexes, etc.) before science could explain the physiological mechanisms for storing memories.

This is an important book in the category of general psychology and human development. The authors effectively eviscerate Fraud, Jung and Skinner as being artifacts of a pre-scientific approach to understanding human behavior and mental health. They posit that an understanding of the physical structure of the brain and the relationship and interplay of the environment to it is necessary to understanding the manifestation of behaviors found in our species. In outlining the science of the brain's...more
This was interesting. In some ways, it totally creeped me out that their solution to problems of not being able to love was to find a therapist with whom a person could develop a stable relationship that would teach him or her how to trust again. I know it's a possible aid, but I think that you have to be so careful with someone really vulnerable and a therapist. There is a lot of abuse of power/addiction to therapy potential there. And I think there are other answers besides getting therapy.

I d...more
This book marries neurophysiology with the Attachment Theory, via poetic -- if occasionally florid -- language. It posits that human beings possess three layers of brains: the reptilian, the mammalian, and the neocortex. The reptilian governs our most basic acts and instincts, such as our heartbeats, our fight or flight response. The mammalian governs our emotions and emotional communication, and is responsible for empathy, the foundation of basic human morality. Finally, the neocortex governs o...more
This book was recommended to me by a school librarian who was trying to apply its principles in a small Alaska town. She felt that the kids who came to her school lacked a real connection with the people around them, and so she had started an after-school knitting group that was becoming very popular. When you teach someone to knit, she said, you have to sit close. She made rules that limited negative actions and reinforced positive ones, and she gave her own attention to kids that she felt were...more
Amaroq de Quebrazas
Outstanding; it's groundbreaking in that in just 230 pages it connects all the dots from early childhood (attachment theory plus much more), brain physiology to modern therapy that gradually & positively alters the old mental/emotional harmful wiring in we humans through the therapeutic emotional sharing between therapist & client! This book is a required read for many psychology students & graduate students that go to CIIS (California Institute of Integral Studies) here in San Franc...more
How many books have we written about what we call "love"? The word has as many meanings as there are humans on the planet ... and beneath all our meanings, a universal, neurobiological process of rhythm, resonance, and regulation masters all our relations. ~ Of all the books that I, a non-scientist, have read (and tried to read) about neuroscience, this is the ONE. Hard science written with a poetic sensibility and with reverence for all that we know and don't know. This book gave me my first so...more
Caitlyn Kilgore
Aug 08, 2012 Caitlyn Kilgore is currently reading it
Surprisingly pompous and frustrating. Simultaneous throws a plethora of polysyllabic purple prose in your face as it also dribbles off inane analogies. The combination seems to suggest the reader is uneducated and unworthy. It also discusses some psychological studies as if they have been "proven" or had no caveats, which serves to strengthen their argument if you don't know the studies they are talking about, but makes them sound like they are trying to mislead or play off their ideas as "the t...more
Jun 15, 2012 Claire rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone, particularly those interested in mind sciences who have/want heart
I've had this book sitting on my shelf for 6 months. I'd heard good things about it but could not bring my self to approach what I thought would be yet another washed down but drawn out neuropsychology rant for layman. And whilst I was glad I waited till now (my holidays) to read it, this was because I had the time to enjoy it; my concerns were not met.

For a basic rundown on content read the (Goodreads) blurb - I find it an accurate summation. The neuropsychology - thankfully, despite my love of...more
I thought I finished this book last month, but I had one page left, which I read today. This book is a masterpiece. The last few lines of the chapter called "A Walk in the Shadows" sum up the book's ideas. "A good deal of modern American culture is an extended experiment in the effects of depriving people of what they crave most." And, "Our children are the builder's of tomorrow's world - quiet infants, clumsy toddlers, and running and squealing (two-year-olds), whose pliable neurons carry withi...more
There are amazing parts of this book. So amazing as to elevate my overall rating to four stars. The last quarter of this book I wouldn't recommend to anyone.

Our brains have developed to need, physically need, relationships. According to the authors this is simply an experiment of nature and unique to mammals. It was fascinating to read about mammal relationships and the pros and cons of not needing them. In parts of this book there was a resonance and validation as if things I've known in the b...more
Mar 29, 2011 Andrea rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who want to love more
Shelves: bookclub, non-fiction
Sometimes I forget just how important love is. Like I need to tell myself, "Hey, Andrea, remember that thing that's so important that ties you to all your favorite people, and is what we all live for? It's called LOVE; you might want to try it." Not that I hate people; I'm just self-absorbed a lot of the time. But being self-absorbed makes me cranky, so I'm trying to not do that. This book has helped me to enjoy and take satisfaction in taking the time to build relationships with important peopl...more
Jennifer Shreve
"We demand too much if we expect single-handed empiricism to define and lay bare the human soul. Only in concert with art does science become so precise. Both are metaphors through which we strive to know the world and ourselves; both can illuminate inner and outer landscapes with a flash that inspires but whose impermanence necessitates unending rediscovery."

I feel like this quote from the book summarizes my review of it. This is science journalism rendered poetic, if a little uneven at times,...more
Feb 03, 2011 Amber rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in self-development
Coming to the end of this book, I felt like I had traveled a long trip in understanding the human brain.

The book briefly explains about the three parts of the human brain--reptilian, limbic, and neocortical, and then focuses on the limbic system which is the emotional center of the brain. Using brain research, the authors explain the long-term emotional memory and the neural patterns it creates. These patterns, formed in the first few years of our lives, dictate what sort of people we will be an...more
Sarah Gibbs

Nope, can't do it. How did so many people manage to get through this piece of derivative, overwritten nonsense? "And so the towers and walls of the Freudian citadel sprang into midair, where they remain: the looming turret of the censoring superego, the lofty arches of insight, the squat dungeon of the id." And that's just the preface! It drones on for another - OMG - 243 pages! And don't get me started on the condescending italics: " neurotransmitters", "scaffolds" , "neocortex" , "prosody." I'...more
2.5 stars.

This book went from terrible (almost put it down after two chapters) to pretty interesting (interesting enough to finish the book), only to plateau at boring and repetitive.

To its credit, it is a good introduction to the evolutionary history of the brain (although the triune brain theory is a bit dated) and the psychology of emotions. It also makes a good case for stay-at-home parenting, bed sharing with infants, longterm therapy and antidepressants - which are all, to some extant, cri...more
Long ago, I got a degree in psychology. So, a lot of what this book discusses was already known to me. First, Freudian theory is really outdated and useless (check). Second, there are 3 parts to our brain and a lot of issues arise from interactions between the cerebral cortex and the limbic system (check). Third, the efficacy of brief therapy is extremely, if not completely, limited (check). Fourth, attachment at an early age is one of the most important and lasting parts of development that eff...more
I wrote a review for this and goodreads broke.

Basically this is a book about brains. It is not so much about love, it is about attachment theory. I learned how to raise babies, how to have relationships, I learned some people are hopeless.

They basically attack Freud for saying it all goes back to oedipus. But then they say it all goes back to parents and how they are attached to their parents. So basically Freud is completely wrong,except for the fact that he is a little bit right.
this book is the book to read about relationships. i would never expect for science to conclude: "love cannot be extracted, commanded, demanded, or wheedled. It can only be given". thank god these three writers have!

the language is a little wavy and takes getting used to, but if that doesn't distruct your focus - a great read.
Tom Heavey
Love is the answer.

Thankfully, what the heart has always known is being re-accepted by Western culture; the brain now has the evidence it demands to appropriately relief itself of some of the power bestowed upon it.

A well paced, accessible, if sometimes verbose journey from the intellect to the heart. I found it refreshing, interesting and exciting. Love has been too long a dirty word in the healing professions; I'm thankful for the erudite and artistic explanation that love is a basic human nee...more
Fantastic book; reiterated all the points in my own talk therapy experience regarding how you really are your biology. Highly recommended.
Laura Cipollari
The book makes it's case (stolidly) for the role of the mother in the initial moments of life, when bonding occurs.
I was amazed that it was published in 2000. It could have been written today; especially the last chapters.
What I took away from it was a reaffirmation of the importance of a nurturing mother AND
the wrongness of forcing women to have children they don't want.
Remember all you 'lifers', if you force a woman to have a child she doesn't want, the consequences could be that that child g...more
Geri Degruy
The authors explore the physiology of love in humans. This of course is dicey business since love can't be pinpointed in a particular brain area. They look at relatedness, in evolution and especially in humans, and the pivotal, essential value it has in raising and being healthy people. Our Western culture doesn't fare well on the relatedness scale and we are suffering for it.

It is hard to describe this book in a way that will do it justice. Although scholarly, it is written beautifully. It rev...more
When I first started reading this, I was in not the best place emotionally. Not horrible, but not great, and wanted to know all about love and relationships and was will to read all the psych books about it. Somewhere in the middle, I put it down, and picked up again, a few months later, when I was no longer in this quest to understand the human mind and how it deals with love.

On the one hand, I love learning about psychology, and this book mentioned a lot of studies that I've read about/studie...more
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“Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love. (144)” 35 likes
“The first part of emotional healing is being limbically known - having someone with a keen ear catch your melodic essence. (170)” 14 likes
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