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A History of the Wife
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
I had actually pre-ordered this book since several early reviews had me drooling over the topic. Women's history is a passionate topic of mine and I was interested to see how the author would tackle such a complicated issue as marriage throughout the ages. Yalom was clearly up to the task! Her prose is witty and smooth while her research bears up under close scrutiny. Clearly such a mammoth undertaking as studying "the wife" in every society could not have been attempted in a mere 400 pages, so she does concentrate on Western society. Nevertheless, her scope is enormous, beginning with pre-history and leading up to the late 1990s. She does a marvelous job combining scholarly work with personal diaries and anecdotes, as well as the analysis of art and other cultural references.
Two things struck me while reading it: 1) I never thought "Well, this is getting a little dry" and 2) Everything old is new again, since many of the struggles women have today are continual themes that have existed for hundreds of years. I definitely appreciated her broadening the scope of "wife" to include other types of romantic partners in the last chapter during her analysis of the latter half of the twentieth century. Yalom's "History of the Breast" is waiting in the wings for me to read. I just wonder what's next - "History of the Child"? "History of the Daughter"? Whatever topic she chooses, I'll purchase it!
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 20, 2001
Marilyn Yalom is a compassionate author filled with passion. History of the Wife grabs the reader and moves them from a discussion of wives of Greece to the modern, liberated, opinionated, and hard working version today. Along the way the reader is rewarded with diary accounts that supports the general premise that women have been historically treated as second, third and fourth class citizens. She points out, perhaps accidently, that each age has seen the advancement of wives from persons of no rights to individuals fully functional in todays world. The book deals with European wives as well as wives on the North American continent. Also included in this latter group are slave wives and native american wives.
All together this is the kind of history book that Barbara Tuckman or Fernand Braudel would have enjoyed writing and reading. Filled with insights galore. I loved it.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2001
"A History of the Wife," by noted Stanford scholar Marilyn Yalom, is a delightful trip across many centuries. As the mother of three twenty-something unmarried daughters, I'm thankful for the perspective it offers. Yalom writes with balance and humor, and her work will enable the reader to learn in-depth about the varied attitudes toward courtship, marriage, and the role of the wife, in other times and places. As a Lay Carmelite, I was especially intrigued by the Puritans, who placed a high value on mutual love, but emphasized that love should not be confused with romantic passion, and was never meant to rival the love of God. Yalom calls their approach "affection in harmony with duty and reason." As a veteran of a marriage of more than thirty years' duration, I would heartily concur with that description, and would hope that my daughters enter into such satisfying and enduring unions.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 21, 2003
I really enjoyed this book. I have to give it four stars at it really only includes anglo western women. This gives little detail for women of the East, Africian nations, or even indiginous people of the Americas. With that being said the book is highly informative and goes through marriage through times. Attention is given to the Greek, Roman, Western European wives, then off to America and how American women's lives have changed.
This book explores what typically was an arranged marriage for family prestige and gain, until it became a love match. Wives roles were more than simply taking care of the house and children through out time. Wives often ran a husbands business, and was even a requirement for some careers.
While this book may have been written from a feminist point of view, I believe this book can be read by all who want to know about the role of a wife from a historical standpoint. Its a wonderful thought provoking read that will leave you thankful you live in the modern age.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2006
The title of the book is a little bit misleading; I was under the impression, when I bought the book, that it is going to tackle the history of the wife from a world historical perspective or at least from an overall western perspective. However, the book focuses mainly on the US and Britain and it touches a little bit on the Roman and Greek civilizations. Even the Church does not get as much coverage as it should have had since the Church played a big role in defining marriage the way we know it today in the Christian world.

Having said all that, I still enjoyed reading this book for the amount of historical events that it contains from Europe and the US. It is easy to read and follow and Marilyn Yalom focuses more on showing what women thought and experienced throughout history in their own words than on her own thoughts and hypothesis, which is good because she allows the reader to participate in the analysis of the events.

A good book and I recommend it if you are interested in learning about the evolution of the woman's place in society in Europe and the US.

(Some people might find all the text about history a little hard to read (in other words a bit boring) but if you're a history lover then you'll enjoy it and if you are interested in the woman's movement then this is the book for you)
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2002
This is a very readable, interesting book detailing the history of the wife from biblical stories to present day America. The focus is very much on white, western women, almost exclusively European and American. There is a lot of interesting history and it's a fascinating evolution. Yalom choice of quotes & illustrations from Dickenson to newspaper comics was a nice addition, adding some color to the text. The eurocentric focus, since it was pretty clearly defined, didn't bother me until 20th-century America, when the absence of any Asian, Indian, African, etc. influences or tradtions seemed blatant and misleading. I also expected more discussion of gay partnerships since they figured heavily in Yalom's introduction.
Overall, I think it's an excellent book, just as it says for any woman considering the title of wife or already possessing it to see some of the baggage and tradion it carries.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2001
I found this book to be both an expose and celebration of wifehood. It opened my eyes to some notable and courageous women that I would have otherwise never heard of. My best friend is getting married in a few months, and I am going to give this book to her as a present. I also liked the book's balance. It gives us a look at conventional Western wifehood starting in ancient Greece and leading up to the present. At the same time, Yalom writes about many wives who defied those conventions.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2001
I enjoyed Yalom's book. I think it's an important read for any American woman considering entering the institution of marriage. Yalom's coverage of the history of wifehood is interesting and easy to read. I did find myself disappointed when she began to adopt sexist terminology and phrases. Her book does not include a look at Eastern wives such as those from China, Japan, or India. She doesn't look at the African culture either. Her history ends up in America and focuses largely on white, middle class women. She has a fair number of paragraphs dealing with African American women, but hardly mentions Latinas, Asian Amercian women, or Native American women. I suppose Yalom's target audience is liberal, college educated, white, and economically comfortable: that's the group she seems to cover.
As Yalom's book approached 2001, I feel she left out an important new movement: alternatives to marriage. She failed to distinguish between women who have chosen never to enter the insitution of marriage (but may create a life with a committed partner) and those who choose not to enter into a partnership at all. Yalom did not focus very much at all on lesbian and bisexual women and their quest for legal marriage, nor she did mention lesbian and bisexual women through the ages who did or did not marry men.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. With a few others, such as Public Vows (by Nancy Cott), Here Comes the Bride (Jaclyn Geller), Marriage Shock (Dalma Heyn), etc., a woman could become well-informed about the status and options of marriage in today's world.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2005
I've recommended this book to just about every one of my female friends and family members. This is just such an enlightening history of women and their role in society. You will be amazed at what you learn in this book and it made me so appreciative of the choices women have today. I also really enjoyed the letters and writings of the women throughout history that Yalom weaves into her book.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2003
It's more a collection of interesting anecdotes than scholarly history. I wouldn't recommend it to a serious student. It's a book where someone is invited to England by "the archbishop of Cranmer" (I don't think she can blame that one on her proofreaders). Others have complained about the omission of Asia and Africa. In her coverage of "Wives in the Ancient World" she limits herself to the Old Testament and Greece and Rome. I suppose she had to leave something out, but she spends three pages on rehashing the story of Antony and Cleopatra with mentioning who it was that Cleopatra was originally supposed to marry. The startling identity of that intended spouse should certainly be relevant to "Wives in the Ancient World."
Elsewhere she recounts very well known tales such as Bible stories and the plots of Shakespeare's plays at a length that I found tedious but some may find informative. Things liven up when she gets to the 19th century, and I found the narratives of pioneer and Mormon wives in the old West quite enthralling.
Her feminism comes to the fore as she describes tha latter part of the 20th century. She sees all as progress and gives no space to the conservative arguments.I found it strange that she (who has done sexual surveys herself) should recount Kinsey's fantasies in his "Report" as fact.
It's well written, readable, interesting and entertaining, but look elsewhere if you want reliable history for a term paper.
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