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A General Theory of Love

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This original and lucid account of the complexities of love and its essential role in human well-being draws on the latest scientific research. 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.

A General Theory of Love demonstrates that our nervous systems are not self-contained: from earliest childhood, our brains actually link with those of the people close to us, in a silent rhythm that alters the very structure of our brains, establishes life-long emotional patterns, and makes us, in large part, who we are. Explaining how relationships function, how parents shape their child’s developing self, how psychotherapy really works, and how our society dangerously flouts essential emotional laws, this is a work of rare passion and eloquence that will forever change the way you think about human intimacy.

274 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 2000

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Thomas Lewis

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 512 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
December 4, 2013
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 relationships. Hence, only mammals can have relationships; and, since the formation of relationships relies on neural hardware that we share with other mammals, it is perfectly reasonable to talk about people having genuine emotional relationships with non-human mammals like dogs, horses and cats. You cannot, however, have a relationship with a reptile.

The authors, all psychotherapists, develop this idea by arguing that emotional relationships mediated by the limbic system are far more important than many people today wish to acknowledge, and that this lack of understanding is causing us untold damage. They start by looking at small babies, who over and over have been shown to be absolutely dependent on close physical contact with their mother or a substitute. The reason, it is claimed, is that an infant's physiology is an open system. He is not capable of regulating his bodily functions on his own, but needs the mother's presence to help him do it. If he is separated from his mother, he first becomes stressed and agitated, and if the absence is prolonged lapses into an inert, uncaring state. There are many directly verifiable physiological correlates (changes in heart rhythm, hormone balance, immune system responses, etc), which in babies can easily end up being fatal. Adolescents and adults who are separated from loved ones react in a similar, but less extreme way, but the basic argument is that the pain of loss is not an illusion. Heartbreak hurts for very real, physical reasons, that come from our basic mammalian biology.

The book then looks at memory, in particular unconscious learning processes; it says these are also mediated through the limbic system, and that learning happens by acquiring behavioral patterns from the people with whom we have close emotional relationships. In particular, children generally learn their emotional responses from their mothers. Children whose mothers are not close to them, or who use an inconsistent parenting strategy, become adults who will have life-long emotional problems. Therapy, the authors say, works by establishing a close emotional relationship between the patient and the therapist, similar to the one the patient had with their parent. The success or failure of the treatment does not depend on which psychological school the therapist belongs to (they have a hearty contempt for Freudian theory). Rather, it depends on what kind of person the therapist is, since the patient is essentially trying to become the therapist at an emotional level.

I have trouble deciding whether to believe all this. I do think they have a good point about how modern Western society underestimates the importance of emotion. One interesting section offers an explanation of why "alternative medicine" has become so popular. Even if the treatments are scientific nonsense, patients don't just go to the doctor to get a scientific diagnosis, but because the emotional relationship with the doctor is important to them. In the US, doctors have become so distant and impersonal that they no longer fulfill this function; a homeotherapist may be handing out quack medicine, but usually he also offers warm, human contact. The authors say this can in many cases be nearly as useful, and studies do indeed show that the placebo effect is very strong.

It's a thought-provoking book; they clearly believe they're telling us something important, and they've based it on a lot of reading and clinical experience. Even if some of it is no doubt wrong, my feeling is that enough of it is right that it's well worth reading.
Profile Image for Becca.
28 reviews1 follower
August 24, 2009
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 things, and neurons are flowers arranged prettily into a metal support structure that can lose weight, thereby turning into a concrete example. Ah, now I understand the workings of love in the brain, and bravo to the authors for avoiding dry academese! Please, what's with the idea that poetic writing can't - perhaps shouldn't - be clear? Likewise, the authors are really, really excited about adjectives. Now, I love a good adjective as much as the next person, but the quantity here is, um, luxurious: "Love fits with gliding ease into the heart of a troubadour's croon or a poet's couplet. There, in the mental balance weighing such correspondences, love indisputably belongs. But the prospect of putting humanity's palpitating heart under the scientist's steely gaze gives pause". Blech.

Plus, the authors misrepresent evolutionary psychology as having nothing to say about friendship(!), kindness (what?), music, or religion (arguable, and argued).

I like the idea of "limbic resonance" (the ways our mammalian emotion centers extend outside of ourselves and are affected by others'), and it will stick with me. And they do a memorable job of explaining neurotransmitters, too. Overall, though, the book is thick with a gooey sludge of stylistic biomass hiding leeches and broken glass, silently quivering when we trod through the deep muck in search of the solitary lilly pad from which emanates the ever-elusive frog croak answer to that age-old question, "what is love?"
Profile Image for Nataliya Yaneva.
165 reviews322 followers
January 13, 2021
“…the questions we ask change the world we see.”
Знаете ли кое е общото между хората, ехидните и пуду, най-малкия вид елен на света? Не, не са косматите крайници и смешният нос. Лимбичната система е. Това е онази част от мозъка, която при бозайниците е отговорна за възникването на емоции, по-комплексни от „трябва да спася първо и най-вече собствения си задник (опашка)“, както е при влечугите. С други думи, това е делът на мозъка, който ни позволява да изпитваме привързаност и, както се досещате от заглавието, любов.

“A General Theory of Love” е може би малко подвеждащо заглавие. Когато чуем думата „любов“, се сещаме основно за романтична любов. Всъщност книгата проследява неимоверно сложния танц на еволюцията на мозъка и изграждането на отношения със себеподобните от самото раждане. Доста обезпокоително е как връзките с всички хора в живота ни в някаква степен се предопределят от най-ранните етапи на съществуването ни. Ще ми се много повече родители да осъзнават, че начина, по който се отнасят с децата си, и примерите, които им дават волно или неволно със собственото си поведение, неминуемо имат огромно значение. Че максимата „Даваш мляко в единия край и се мъчиш да държиш другия възможно най-чист“, постулирана от Тери Пратчет в „Еманципирана магия“, не е това, което ще направи от бебето емоционално здрав и пълноценен член на човешкия род.

По-рано споменах ехидните. Те са от най-примитивния разред бозайници, наречени еднопроходни. Те са и единствените бозайници, които не могат да сънуват – леко тъжен факт за тях, надявам се да го понасят с достойнство. При тях за пръв път се формира и рудиментарна лимбична система. Дарвин смятал, че емоциите са еволюционна адаптация на организмите, също като нокти, крила, люспи. Като се има предвид, че сред влечугите са наблюдава известен канибализъм и относителен непукизъм в грижата към новото поколение, бих казала, че това е била необходима еволюционна крачка. Дори при този напредък обаче, за нас, хората, има не само добри новини.

“It has been said that neurotics build castles in the sky, while psychotics live in them, and psychiatrists collect the rent.”
Авторите на книгата, професори по психиатрия, излагат теорията, че човешкото тяло е отчасти отворена, отчасти затворена система. При появата си в света ние представляваме една изключително крехка отворена система, която напълно разчита на родителите д�� зададат ритъм на различни физиологични и химични процеси в мозъка, да настроят компаса ни. За съжаление, дали ще сме притеснителни невротици или весели екстраверти в немалка степен определя генетиката. Обгрижването на родителите все пак може да смекчи кофти картите, които ДНК-та ни е раздала, или пък обратно – да проиграе една иначе добра ръка. Отражението на света такова, каквото са ни го показали тези първи най-важни резонатори, ще бъде основополагащо за (не)успешния начин, по който ще се саморегулираме впоследствие. Никога обаче няма да сме напълно затворена и самодостатъчна система. По-късно в живота ще търсим други, които ни регулират лимбично по правилния начин.

Животът ни е чудата съвкупност от избори, които често смятаме за плод на свободна воля, и независещи от нас събития. Трогателно е как си въобразяваме, че нещата, които виждаме, са обективна действителност, когато сме така симпатично субективни същества. Мозъкът ни е пленителна материя, която крие зад пластове енигма и стрелкащи се неврони толкова нематериални и неразбираеми неща. Като например колко далеч бихме стигнали да притъпим душевна болка. Има хора, които се самоубиват, за да спрат болката. Убиват физическото, за да съхранят някак, в някакъв абстрактен смисъл, психическото. Тези, които физически се самонараняват пък, не го правят просто за да привлекат внимание. При порязване, опарване, удар мозъкът ни отделя ендогенни опиоидни пептиди (ще рече естествени опиати), които уталожват и по-дълбоката, менталната болка. Страх ме е, всеки го е страх от болка, която би продиктувала на мозъка такива решения.

Плашещо е наистина колко много не знаем. Надявам се да научаваме все повече за това, което ни движи и ни прави такива, каквито сме.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
June 28, 2019
A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis
A General Theory of Love is a book about the science of human emotions and biological psychiatry written by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon, psychiatry professors at the University of California, San Francisco, and first published by Random House in 2000. It has since been reissued twice, with new editions appearing in 2001 and 2007. The book examines the phenomenon of love and human connection from a combined scientific and cultural perspective. It attempts to reconcile the language and insights of humanistic inquiry and cultural wisdom (literature, song, poetry, painting, sculpture, dance and philosophy) with the more recent findings of social science, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Presenting scientific facts and hypotheses through engaging prose, A General Theory of Love has been compared to the work of Steven Pinker and Oliver Sacks. Since its first publication, the book has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, Latvian, Croatian, and Persian.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و هشتم ماه ژوئن سال 2007 میلادی
عنوان: تئوری عشق؛ نویسندگان: تامس لوئیس؛ فریبرز امینی، ریچارد لانون؛ مترجم: ملک ناصر نوبان، بهزاد نوبان، مشخصات نشر: تهران، مروارید، 1384، در 273 ص، موضوع: تئوری عشق از نویسندگان - سده 21 م
ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Gilbert 04.
6 reviews5 followers
July 18, 2012
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-help, touchy-feely kind of way--but by explaining the science of brain development and the associated outcomes in our personal lives using accessible, easy to understand language that borders on lyric prose. Thank you, Dr. Thomas Lewis for introducing me to myself!!
Profile Image for Sarah Gibbs.
4 reviews1 follower
July 6, 2012

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've used textbooks with more originality. As a psychologist and practicing therapist, I find this book embarrassing, and as a former neuroscientist researcher and professor, I find it insulting.
Profile Image for Beverly.
Author 38 books23 followers
August 9, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Ammara Abid.
205 reviews139 followers
July 24, 2016
Interesting & informative book but Pardon me please, For me it's more like a general therapy of love rather than 'a general theory of love'.

And where actually the theory is about to start the book ends.

Though many chapter contains love sonnets, quotations by the renowned writers & psychologists and few lines on love but Where the write-up on love is about to start suddenly some intricate thing jump into the middle and love became a subsidiary subject and the topic under discussion is evolutionary history of brain to its functions to emotions to memory to depression to parenting to psychiatry to psychotherapy and what not. And I was like :O where's love?????

Lover has memories------ he/she got depressed----- they need a therapy--- they need to believe in their psychiatrist-----

But the writer missed the basic theme,
where the hell, love actually starts and from where? When? How?

I know it's a neuroscience book & I wasn't expecting that neurons should play orchestra neither I think that amygdala should do waltz with hippocampus nor I hope that hormones should be transported here & there while singing love songs but what I expect from it was actually a detailed account only on love, history of love (not brain) in the perspective of neuroscience, Brain parts & their functioning and hormonal level when someone is in love.

And how could I forget the 3rd/2nd last excerpt of the book (which if present in the first chapter then, Did I read the book? Yes, for sure i'll still read it but not with high hopes about love theory)

Excerpts from the book :
~" The adventure of seeking a theory of love is far from over. While science can afford us a closer glimpse of this tower or that soaring wall, the heart's castle still hangs high in the heavens, shrouded in scudding clouds and obscured by mist. Will science ever announce the complete revelation of all of love's secrets? Will empiricism ever trace an unbroken path from the highest stone of the heart's castle down to the bedrock of certitude?
Of course not. We demand too much if we expect single-handed empiricism to define and lay bear 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 landscape with a flash that inspires but whose impermanence necessitates unending rediscovery ".

P.S: & Now I understand the cover of the book fully ●_● before reading it I thought two chairs signify lovers ♡ ^_^ ♡ but actually they aren't.
One chair is for the therapist and the other for the patient.
Profile Image for Ginna.
328 reviews
February 28, 2009
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 fairly starved for it. Bit by bit, she was seeing a change in the way the kids (mostly second-graders, but some older) behaved, listened, and treated her and others.
_A general theory of love_ takes research from psychology, psychiatry, neurobiology, and anywhere else that has something relevant to say, and combines them to argue for the importance of love in shaping the brain, especially in childhood, when important neural connections are being made and strengthened. It explains the reasons that it might be true that you wind up with a partner who echoes your parent in some ways, that most people create the home emotional environment in which they grew up. The authors do address the possibility of reshaping neural connections made in childhood, but I felt that part of the book was the thinnest -- lots of thought about how psychotherapy can use the relationship between patient and therapist to reorient the love motivation -- toward someone who echoes your therapist's emotionality. (Better be careful picking your therapist! Choose the gender carefully, and better make sure you like them...)
There's a lot of focus on the limbic brain, where emotional motivations start, often before the neocortex is aware of them. It's fairly accessible for readers without a deep knowledge of psychology & neurobiology. It's an interesting read, and it definitely makes the world look a little different. I'd recommend it.
Profile Image for Isabel.
313 reviews40 followers
November 18, 2016
Neste livro sobre o amor, requisitado na Biblioteca, eis que me deparo com uma declaração de amor (escrita a lápis) na última página: "Tenho pouco para dar, a não ser um profundo sentimento... Talvez também não tenha nada a receber mas pelo que aqui direi que gosto de ti! Desculpa qualquer coisa mas aconteceu apaixonar-me sem querer." Não está assinado e não sei mais sobre esta história... :)

P. 172- "É dificil
obter notícias de poemas,
no entanto, os homens todos os dias morrem miseravelmente
por falta
daquilo que se encontra neles."

William Carlos Williams

P. 186- "Amar deriva da intimidade, a observação prolongada e detalhada de uma alma estranha."
Profile Image for Lisa.
18 reviews
December 17, 2008
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.

And just like the invention of the telescope eventually disproved the Ptolemy's geocentric model of astronomy, so the invention of fMRI machines is supplanting the old institutionalized Freudian metaphors. It turns out we don't have a Pandora's box of repressed memories lurking in the darkest corners of our minds. Instead we two distinct types of memory, explicit and implicit, the former of which is available for conscious reflection; and the latter, which is not. There is a gulf between our knowledge and our awareness of it, but not because of sexual guilt or repression but because of the evolutionary path of our limbic systems.

Good stuff!
Profile Image for Forrest.
27 reviews3 followers
March 18, 2009
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. Our autonomic and most base reactions (such as fear) live in the reptilian bulb, and the socialization features common to mammals in the limbic brain that overlays it. In the final layer, the neocortex, live the conceptual and analytic functions that are a recent evolutionary development in life on earth, seemingly most advanced in humans.

The recent arrival of 'understanding' conflicts with the old and established mechanisms of emotional interaction that occur between limbic brains. Poets have long known what scientists now verify... that reason and emotion occupy separate brain places. We seek the reasons why we feel with an intellect that is not operating to the same rules, which explains some of the stress of coming to terms with how one feels about something and the profound level of puzzle that routinely occurs when we examine our emotional reactions to the world and people we confront.

The authors cast a dim view on Freudian approaches to the analysis of the human personality, but give a convincing alternative model in a few hundred pages accessible to the layman. As someone who has always postulated an extreme biological and genetic basis in behavior, I came to this book more equipped than most to appreciate its content, but I do think it's accessible and useful to most folks.

It certainly and convincingly dislodged Freudian concepts from my toolkit of understanding, and replaced them with a much more workable, and easily articulated alternate model.

I'm adding it to my list of favorites, and rate it so highly because it speaks directly to my prejudices in this area! I know that's self-serving, but read it and we can discuss the content later!

This book is a keeper, not a library checkout book.
Profile Image for Karunagrace.
8 reviews
April 1, 2008
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. Publishers Weekly put it this way:

"New research in brain function has proven that love is a human necessity; its absence damages not only individuals, but our whole society. In this stimulating work, psychiatrists Lewis, Amini and Lannon explain how and why our brains have evolved to require consistent bonding and nurturing. They contend that close emotional connections actually change neural patterns in those who engage in them, affecting our sense of self and making empathy and socialization possible. Indeed, the authors insist, 'in some important ways, people cannot be stable on their own.' Yet American society is structured to frustrate emotional health, they contend: self-sufficiency and materialistic goals are seen as great virtues, while emotional dependence is considered a weakness. Because our culture does not sufficiently value interpersonal relationships, we are plagued by anxiety and depression, narcissism and superficiality, which can lead to violence and self-destructive behaviors. It is futile to try to think our way out of such behaviors, the authors believe, because emotions are not within the intellect's domain. What is needed is healthy bonding...."
Profile Image for Dakota.
47 reviews1 follower
November 7, 2011
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 did appreciate the back-to-basics ideas of getting away from materialism and back to what really matters, meaning real emotional connections and love, but our society is so fast and so materialistic now. Does that have to be mutually exclusive with a healthy, loving society and healthy, loving relationships?

"Happiness is within range only for adroit people who give the slip to America's values. These rebels will necessarily forgo exalted titles, glamorous friends, exotic vacations, washboard abs, designer everything-- all the proud indicators of upward mobility -- and in exchange, they may just get a chance at a decent life." Hmm. I think that's an overly binary way of looking at it. I know quite a few happy, glamorous friends who are in relationships but still know how to value what matters. Focusing less on those things may give more depth to love and to relationships, but all of us care about our partners' images and looks to a certain extent.

They also say that each partner in a relationship needs to give 100% -- not 50/50. That there is no wheeling/dealing/bargaining. I think that's kind of expecting too much. Some people are more serious and committed about relationships, and others see it as a supplement to their lives and don't spend as much time with their mates or need as much from them.
Profile Image for Sabrina de Leon.
25 reviews2 followers
January 23, 2022
A book everyone must read! One of the best ones I’ve read in a while.
The biological aspects of love are so important to our wellbeing, yet they are somehow always overlooked. This book answers “how do we love?” and “why do we need to?”, two of the most important questions of our lives. I cannot overstate how critical and fundamental this book’s wisdom is to our relationships.

That being said, I would’ve really enjoyed that the authors included a bit of philosophical conclusion after each chapter’s biological explanations: What does this mean? What are the implications? And I do believe the chapter titles didn’t really reflect nor convey what the content was about. The subtitles were great, but the chapter titles were very random, or at least not well explained to the reader.

It is an impactful and important book. It will definitely have substantial impact in my life and my research.
Profile Image for Nick.
14 reviews
May 2, 2012
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 structure the authors effectively skewer some popular pseudo-scientific memes such as the "nature vs. nurture" debate, the belief in general gene-based determinism or that drug therapy is a precise panacea to the ills found in our mental and emotional lives.

Once slaying the dragons of ignorance, the authors go on to provide a glimpse into the new land ahead in developing a general theory regarding human behavior. Their focus is on our evolutionary place in the world and how the underlying structure that makes us human provides clues into what we need to live healthy emotional lives.

The book is not without it's controversies. The concept of the triune brain is a good model for generalization but it has not been accepted in neuroscience as an accurate model of the human brain. Also, the identification of what constitutes the limbus is a shifting science as is the evolutionary theory of the brain.

One would expect such contingency in a scientific field only now garnering results. We have been amazingly ignorant of the most important part of our anatomy that explains what we are, how our personalities and emotional lives are formed and how those needs create the society in which we live.

Thus, in the end, I would say that a "general theory" is overreach. What the authors have done, however, is provide a strong hypothesis that is proving itself out in experimental and evolutionary biology and neuroscience: that we are social animals, that we have a strong and essential need for love and support early in our development, that our relationships and environment mold the structures of the brain, that emotional regulation is important throughout our lives and that we are connected to each other in both intuitive and overt ways that make us what we are individually and societally.

I read this book shorty after reading Sam Harris' "The Moral Landscape" and it is clear that we are entering a new period of human understanding based on science and learning regarding human affairs. Bertrand Russell saw only an inkling of this when he said philosophy is dead. These works are the first voices in what will soon be a cacophony.
Profile Image for Andy.
1,350 reviews462 followers
June 20, 2022
As someone interested in science, I did not learn much from hearing about "the reptile brain" and other concepts that have been around in popular culture for many decades. But this book is worse than just boring. Towards the end, it makes statements slamming various forms of therapy as ineffective. The authors specifically include CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) in this list of useless methods. I find this disturbing, since a simple check of Google Scholar will yield evidence-based Cochrane reviews on the benefits and relative cost-effectiveness of CBT.

Great Courses: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain
Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide
Great Courses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques for Retraining Your Brain by Jason M. Satterfield Managing Your Mind The Mental Fitness Guide by Gillian Butler
Profile Image for Don.
293 reviews3 followers
May 15, 2022
This book's title is misleading, as the authors do not give us a theory of love but more or less just restate the basic tenets of attachment theory. They give us some brain science — dividing the brain into its reptilian, mammalian, and neocortical parts — and emphasize that we fail to reach our potential when we do not acknowledge our mammalian need for connection. Good stuff here, but the authors take a great deal of time stating some very simple truths. Sebastian Junger makes these same points in a more succinct and interesting manner.
Profile Image for Princessjay.
548 reviews25 followers
February 14, 2011
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 our sophisticated language centers and rational, strategic thinking.

As a theory, Attachment seems to be on the rise these days in popular psychology to explain the foundation of human happiness or lack thereof: i.e. that our developmental years as vital to our adult emotional stability. A steady, loving caregiver will produce an emotionally-stable human being who is not afraid to love and to give love. A cold, distant caregiver will produce an emotionally-avoidant adult who fears, even despises, intimacy. And a caregiver who blows cold and hot will produce an anxious human being, who will tend to fall into extremely turbulent relationships by their fear of, and heightened sensitivity to, abandonment.

Combined with neurophysiology, the authors goes on to say that our mammalian brains communicate to each other constantly, beyond words. People in close emotional relationships help balance each other's mood, harmonize heart beats, regulate blood pressures, and even their sleeping cycles. A caregiver -- a mother, this book stipulates, is best, because nature built women to release a glut of bonding hormones upon giving birth -- and a baby's relationship is therefore vital -- regulating the baby's heart beat, hormones, developing brain structure, and thus shaping its fundamental understanding of the world. Therefore, if you are raised by a not-so-great caregiver, you're kind of screwed, doomed to some crappy relationships unless you invest 5 years or 10 on a therapist's couch, where talk is cheap, but that your mammalian brain may be slowly but surely modified by that of an emotionally-stable therapist is the only cure. (A disingenuous recommendation, if ever I heard one, as the authors are working psychologists. Surely there is some other way to help yourself? While the intellect cannot dictate the heart, but surely it could guide in a round-about-way, once you know the underlying mechanics?)

All very interesting stuff, written so that I, with a bachelor's degree in Psych (therefore very basic understanding, alas), could easily comprehend. Highly recommended as an introduction to both the Attachment Theory and neurophysiology, but you must move on to other books for what to do afterward.
Profile Image for Becky.
373 reviews164 followers
December 18, 2017
I started reading this last year, and it got lost in one of my book piles. I'm glad I picked it up again and finished it. It's a great book that discusses how love (or lack of it) alters the structure of our brains and that "who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love."

"For those who attain it, the benefits of deep attachment are powerful -- regulated people feel whole, centered, alive. With their physiology stabilized from the proper source, they are resilient to the stresses of daily life, or even to those of extraordinary circumstance.

"Because relationships are mutual, partners share a single fate: no action benefits one and harms the other. The hard bargainer, who thinks he can win by convincing his partner to meet his needs while circumventing hers, is doomed. Withholding reciprocation cripples a healthy partner's ability to nourish him; it poisons the well from which she draws the sustenance she means to give. A couple shares in one process, one dance, one story. Whatever improves that one benefits both; whatever detracts hurts and weakens both lives." (pp. 208-209)
Profile Image for Julie Ann.
38 reviews29 followers
January 11, 2018
I struggled to get through this one, and only persevered because a therapist friend recommended it. I'd also maybe give it a 2.5. I agree with several of the other reviewers -- the writers style distracted from the content significantly for me, and I found the message to be lost behind the frivolous and over-the-top use of metaphors and analogies that didn't explain the actual point. In short, I think the author used a lot of big words and fancy language to say very little.

In all fairness, the length of time it took me to finish this book could be a contributing factor to why I feel like I didn't gain anything from it, but as someone who has a grasp on the concepts presented here, I found the author didn't say much beyond "these are your neocortical and limbic brains, and here's what they might do, but we're still not totally sure." It certainly didn't address the questions from the beginning that the author said the book would tackle, and I found myself walking away from this one without feeling like I gained anything of significance.
Profile Image for Ignacio.
32 reviews
August 30, 2017
Have you ever questioned the existence and reason for your emotions?
Have you ever wondered what separates mammals from reptiles?

Within this book, you will discover the science behind your emotions, and the criticality of why we need to understand more about them and your brain. This scientific book explores the difference between a mammal brain (us humans included) and a reptile brain, explaining the key differences that have allowed us (mammals) to develop a sense of belonging, a complex ray of emotions, and ultimately, allowed us to evolve to be the prime abstract thinkers we are today. Within this book you will discover that we mammals, have three different type of brains: reptile, limbic and neocortex - and we owe to them both our success and our demise. If you are interested about science, medicine, psychology - this book will be worth your while. Check it out.
Profile Image for Beth Haynes.
234 reviews
May 19, 2019
Every wonder why humans need each other? Why and how are we social creatures? What is the neurophysiological basis of emotions? What is the biological basis of love? Why does it hurt when we lose someone?
These and many other questions at the core of what it is to be human and in relationship are addressed in the short, engaging book. Written in a style that melds science and art, facts and poetry, the author(s?) provide a straight forward explanation of the connections within our mind-body-emotional selves.
And it's not all theory. There are practical suggestions for parenting, for relationships of all kinds, for psychotherapists and medical practitioners, as well as key values needed to shift modern society in a healthier, more humane direction.
A touch of history, a healthy dose of basic neuroscience, and a good measure of psychology, all presented toward and from within a place of compassion and love, make this book as inspiring as it is understandable.
Profile Image for Morgan.
171 reviews
February 12, 2022
Not my favorite book on attachment theory, but still good. A friend recommended this to me a while back post (yet another) breakup, lol. In my 5 year journal, one of the prompts is “what is the craziest thing you’ve done for love?” And this year’s answer was “continue to do it, despite how many times it has hurt me.” This book is validating in that sense - because your brain does do better with love and partnership - literally, it’s science. We’ve become too self-focused and individualized (and I’m not even going to touch the enchilada that is the pandemic on this effect). (Or dating apps.) (Or the internet, generally speaking.)

What I miss the most about being in a relationship isn’t even the romantic feelings, butterflies, and sparks. It’s the literal oxytocin and serotonin you get from having a consistent presence in your life (which is sort of touched on in this book). I’d also like dual income, someone to do the dishes if I cooked, someone to help with chores the UNSEXY STUFF I MISS and my brain does too!

Single Morgan out 😂
Profile Image for Sandy Plants.
255 reviews17 followers
July 15, 2019
I found this book SUPER insightful. My therapist recommended that I read it and I’m so glad I did. I would summarize it as a crash course on the science of attachment, plus how attachment wounds form, how they affect a person and what that says about the culture as a whole. Naturally, I thought of myself and my entire family as I read this.
January 29, 2018
Grāmata, kas tavā galvā saliek visu pa plauktiņiem. Liek ieskatīties sevī dziļāk un izprast savu un arī citu rīcību.
Profile Image for Μαρία.
206 reviews31 followers
June 2, 2021
"Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love."
Profile Image for Claire.
28 reviews
December 23, 2022
my physio and spirtual selves became one with this book. this is what i had been hoping to read for a very long time - an exquisite depiction and explanation of the intersection and biological basis for love. recommend to those who are searching for answers to why we are the way we are
Profile Image for Jessica.
1,166 reviews122 followers
June 21, 2022
A friend lent me this book, and I kept wanting to return it to her but feeling like I couldn't until I'd actually read it. Now I'm dreading returning it because I'm going to have to admit how much I disliked this book.

I had more frustrations with this book than it's worth going into here, but the most glaring had to do with the actual writing and organization of the book. The prose was unnecessary complex and difficult to read, and I had a difficult time understanding how the ideas in one chapter led to another, though the authors clearly thought they were building a strong and logical argument. Over and over again they made broad, sweeping conclusions based on their theories and a single data point or anecdote, many of which could have been directly refuted by a more robust examination of the existing evidence.

For me, the most infuriating of these oversteps had to do with parenting. I've done a lot of reading around parenting research lately (including Baby Meets World and The Science of Mom), and the assumptions these authors made -- about things like breastfeeding, cosleeping, and daycare -- are simply not borne out in the research as clearly as they'd like to pretend they are. Not only this, but you would think from reading this book that a child's relationship with their mother drives their entire future, while their father's role is minor and unrelated (even though this itself is in direct contradiction to the authors' own theories). The authors somehow extrapolate that because having zero interactions with a loving caregiver causes mammals to become dysfunctional or die, babies must need as much time as physically possible in direct contact with their biological mother.

For a book about love, there is barely anything about healthy relationship formation and lots about how therapy should be conducted for all the people who are doomed to repeat their relationship with their mother in all their future romantic relationships until they learn how to have a healthy relationship from their relationship with their therapist (seriously).

So yeah, there were all sorts of issues with this book. I strongly considered DNFing this one but took it on the plane to force myself to get through the second half. Would not recommend to anyone.
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