Jonathan's Reviews > Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage

Marriage, a History by Stephanie Coontz
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's review
Jan 02, 10

bookshelves: history, nonfiction
Read in November, 2007

This book is remarkable not for its lucidity, but for being such an easy read while synthesizing information spanning from Ancient Athens, through the Middle Ages, to the present. Coontz chronicles the transformation of marriage from a basic tool of diplomacy (for the wealthy) and home economics (for the masses), where people’s allegiance was to their parents and siblings first, to a love match expected to offer emotional fulfillment in which the partners were devoted first to their spouse and children, to the current smörgåsbord of widely-accepted lifestyle choices. Along the way, you are exposed to many cultures of the past. My biggest problem with the book is that most of those cultures are European. Coontz occasionally makes a comparison with China or Japan; it would improve the books if these were more systematic. This is especially true when she is describing marriage today. Is the Western love match displacing alternate models in the East? Do Confucian, Buddhist, and Hindu understandings of marriage still dominate in China, India, and Japan, or is industrialization (and the legacy of Colonialism in India) changing the meaning of marriage? Considering that over 1/3 of the world’s population lives in India and China, this is no small question. Nevertheless, Coontz’s book is a triumph of historical writing, and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about family life in the United States today, how it got to this point, and how the past was not what we think.

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