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A Natural History of Love

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  1,123 ratings  ·  65 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.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 21st 1995 by Vintage (first published February 21st 1994)
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The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane AckermanA Natural History of the Senses by Diane AckermanThe Planets by Diane AckermanThe Rarest of the Rare by Diane AckermanWife of Light by Diane Ackerman
Best of Diane Ackerman
14th out of 22 books — 1 voter
Salt by Mark KurlanskyAt Home by Bill BrysonA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom StandageGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
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186th out of 238 books — 218 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,260)
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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
Mar 06, 2008 Tj rated it 3 of 5 stars
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.
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.
Dawn Kaczmar
(from Semper Augustus)

Having previously read Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses, comprised of wit and beautiful prose, anecdotes from both nature and history, insightful depth into the nature of our five senses, and scientific fact, I expected a lot from A Natural History of Love. And to be sure, the first 130 pages were interesting.

Ackerman moves through history and literature to describe the many ways we have conceived of love. Beginning in Egypt, she describes the role that ima...more
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."
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
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...more
Scott J.
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...more
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...more
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
Aug 25, 2009 Maggie Campbell marked it as to-read
"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...more
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
Sep 16, 2008 LoLo added it
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...more
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
Jul 27, 2007 Nicole rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Nov 09, 2011 Susan added it
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.
I read about half of it. It was mildly entertaining, but presented absolutely no thesis. It was just a random compilation of uncorrelated anecdotes about love or something tangentially related to love. It wasn't terrible or anything, just didn't have enough glue to will me to continue reading. The book was due and it wasn't really worth the renewal.
Jan 18, 2009 Deb marked it as to-read
So far, very interesting! Amazing to discover how "new" the concept of having love within a marriage actually is. Also, she's doing a lovely job of taking the reader through the various cultures and time and how the role of women has changed, evolved, fallen down, got back up, etc. And I've only just begun! LOVE Diane Ackerman's writing!
Eric McGreevy
This book was actually brutal to read...while I found the first third mildly entertaining the rest was difficult and I often found my mind wandering. To be sure, love and the idea of being "in love" is a difficult concept to tackle and I truly wanted to learn something new. I did, but it was a painful read that was about 150 pages too long...
There are many fascinating little facts and stories in this book. The first part of the book (the history of love) is the strongest and the most full of information that I enjoyed. Later on I feel like Ackerman is reaching a little to flesh out her content. But I enjoy her writing style and subject matters, so all in all a good read.
When I first saw the title of Nicole Krauss' The History of Love, I got rilly excited, because I thought it'd be a deconstruction of the trope. Imagine my disappointment when I realized it was a love...story.


I fink this is the text that I was looking for...but we shall see.


And, no.

same author as "a natural history of the senses"... a book i loved. This one focuses on ideas about love throughout history and is more anthropological in structure. lots of great love story anecdotes and history gems. Up to the part right now where they talk about Ben Fanklin's history as a lover (???!!!???)
History part fascinating.
Psychology part interesting and thought-provoking.
Last third was hard to read.

Extremely heterosexual and very close-minded about sex. Definitely more of a conservative author, but she does keep relatively neutral in the history and psychology sections, which was appreciated.
May 25, 2013 Cara rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any human, lovers and haters
I read in my late 20s-- approximately 2008. I finally internalized the essentialness of love after reading this. Love is required for satisfactory survival-- it is not emotional frivolity or poetic medium. It's stitched to our biology and gives us structural and emotional shape.
Jun 05, 2007 E rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: geekery
Her prose- it is so... purple! So thickly, densely written, with lavish adjectives. Lavish adjectives? See, now it's happening to me too.
I need to reread this, because I don't remember specifics bits of love history and lore, only the sense of her prose being over the top.
Ackerman's prose is beautifully lush though it does start to get rather purple; by the end, one starts to want her to realize that it's enough with the fancy anecdote and evocative metaphor and just spit it out already. Fascinating, complex material made accessible.
the title of the book is pretty self-explanatory and is a great read for the hopeless romantic with more than a passing interest in history, literature, and social psychology - from the story of dido and aeneas to why kissing is so darn fun. vintage does it again.
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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...
The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story A Natural History of the Senses One Hundred Names for Love: A Memoir An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain The Moon by Whale Light and Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians and Whales

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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.” 43 likes
“We think of it as a sort of traffic accident of the heart. It is an emotion that scares us more than cruelty, more than violence, more than hatred. We allow ourselves to be foiled by the vagueness of the word. After all, love requires the utmost vulnerability. We equip someone with freshly sharpened knives; strip naked; then invite him to stand close. What could be scarier?” 12 likes
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