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A General Theory of Love

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,966 Ratings  ·  354 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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Community Reviews

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Dec 04, 2013 Manny rated it liked it
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
Aug 24, 2009 Becca rated it it was ok
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
Jul 18, 2012 Gilbert 04 rated it it was amazing
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
Mohammad Javad
Nov 25, 2015 Mohammad Javad rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: nobody!
Good old days!
Aug 09, 2008 Beverly rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 16, 2008 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Feb 28, 2009 Ginna rated it really liked it
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
Mar 18, 2009 Forrest rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 01, 2008 Karunagrace rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 07, 2011 Dakota rated it it was ok
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
May 02, 2012 Nick rated it it was amazing
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
Sarah Gibbs
Jul 05, 2012 Sarah Gibbs rated it did not like it
Shelves: lost-in-space

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'
Sujeet Gholap
Mar 09, 2016 Sujeet Gholap rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: psychology enthusiasts
"I know it's not in my best interests to feel this way, but I do feel this way... Wow this sucks!" The angry stare from that stranger on the road... why does it make me feel uneasy? "Some random guy on road, why does it matter if he stared angrily at you?" I reason out. Nope. The feeling doesn't go away. I used to think of this as an indication of a 'weak mind'. This book explained me how it is not about weak or strong mind but how it is about human brain structure itself.

The central theme of th
Feb 14, 2011 Princessjay rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Amaroq de Quebrazas
Sep 03, 2014 Amaroq de Quebrazas rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Jan 13, 2016 Laura added it
To say this book changed my perspective seems to understate. It is a book I wish that everyone could read and re-read. Written by MDs with amazing insight, passion and eloquence. One of the most powerful quotes (of so many): Who we are and who we become depends in part on whom we love.
Adam Ross
Jan 16, 2015 Adam Ross rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This ended up being a very different book than I expected. I expected something that was really about the science of romance - and it is, in a way, but it is about a whole lot more than that. It is really about the brain and psychology. It is written by three neuroscientists about the state of knowledge about the brain, and how it works, all written in quite lovely prose and scattered throughout with reflections on some of the greatest works of literature in history. It really could be seen as a ...more
Feb 23, 2014 Dave rated it really liked it
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
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
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 really liked it
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
Sep 25, 2011 Kimberley rated it it was amazing
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
May 02, 2012 Sacha rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-about-baby
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
Mar 29, 2011 Andrea rated it it was amazing
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
Alan Denman
Feb 05, 2013 Alan Denman rated it it was amazing
A GENERAL THEORY OF LOVE is a fascinating book, combining modern scientific research with poetry and literature. It uses neuroscience - the growing mapping and understanding of the brain - to add a new perspective on the timeless question: what is love? One of the key bits of science is the Triune Brain - in particular, the different processing modes and functions of our neo-cortex and our limbic brains. We cannot "understand" love because we don't use the linguistic part of our brain to process ...more
Jennifer Shreve
May 18, 2013 Jennifer Shreve rated it it was amazing
"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,
Feb 03, 2011 Amber rated it it was amazing
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
Greg Talbot
Mar 19, 2016 Greg Talbot rated it it was amazing
“When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love."
– W.H. Auden

Playfully, Lewis's psychobiological book opens with a poem. A poem called the secret, about the excavation of the heart for purpose, fulfillment, effulgence and serenity. With all it's razor-sharp
Mar 15, 2015 Kimberly rated it liked it
I can see how if you were more steeped in the realm of neuroscience or psychoanalysis, this book might be worthless as an academic text. Since I am reading a book on footnotes at the moment, it's annoying that those notes, which would otherwise bolster and add credence to some of the text's claims, are pushed to the back. That said, I'm not entirely sure if this book can be seen as an academic exercise. It fails to reach deeply into the science of anything. Even as a humanities person, I can rec ...more
Stuart Woolf
Jul 27, 2014 Stuart Woolf rated it it was ok
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
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“Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love. (144)” 45 likes
“The first part of emotional healing is being limbically known - having someone with a keen ear catch your melodic essence. (170)” 20 likes
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