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A General Theory of Love [Paperback]

Thomas Lewis , Fari Amini , Richard Lannon
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (178 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Poor, poor science--it gets blamed for everything. While it might be true that some of our alienation and unhappiness stem from a too-rational misunderstanding of emotion, it's also true that science is its own remedy. A General Theory of Love, by San Francisco psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, is a powerfully humanistic look at the natural history of our deepest feelings, and why a simple hug is often more important than a portfolio full of stock options. Their grasp of neural science is topnotch, but the book is more about humans as social animals and how we relate to others--for once, the brain plays second fiddle to the heart.

Though some of their social analysis is less than fully thought out--surely e-mail isn't a truly unique form of communication, as they suggest--the work as a whole is strong and merits attention. Science, it turns out, does have much to say about our messy feelings and relationships. While much of it could be filed under "common sense," it's nice to know that common sense is replicable. Hard-science types will probably be exasperated with the constant shifts between data and appeals to emotional truths, but the rest of us will see in A General Theory of Love a new synthesis of research and poetry. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The Beatles may have sounded naive when they assured us that "all you need is love," but they may not have been far off the mark. 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 from infancy; when this does not occur, the therapist must model it. The authors' utopian vision of emotional health may strike some as vague or conservative to a fault, and the clarity of their thesis is marred by indirect and precious writing. Yet their claim that "what we do inside relationships matters more than any other aspect of human life" is a powerful one. Agent, Carol Mann. 9-city author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A traditional subject of poetry and pop psychology is treated here as a scientific construct. Three psychiatry professors (Univ. of California, San Francisco) cover an impressive vista of research and clinical insights from Freud to contemporary neuroscience. They focus on the limbic brain as the source and conduit of emotions like love. The link between the development of the limbic brain and the development of personality are described here in confident prose. Society is castigated for failing to encourage full-time parenting and other policies that support limbic development and the human need for love. Although the authors sometimes substitute metaphor for empirical support and easily dismiss other perspectives, the book is well written and provides a credible introduction to the neuroscience of emotions. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.
-Antoinette Brinkman, Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An engrossing argument that emotion plays a profound and perhaps prevailing role in a human being's ability to develop and find happiness. So what else is new? What's new here is a careful explication by three professors of psychiatry at UC/SF that love is the answer, and that love stems from clear and powerful connections in the limbic brain, the middle layer between the neocortex, site of so-called higher-order thinking, and the so-called ``reptilian'' brain, responsible for the lowest levels of survival. Chapters on emotion and relationships argue convincingly that from infancy, all mammals, but human beings in particular, depend on reading and adapting to the emotional signals of others to develop and make their way safely in the world. Those signals are read in the context of what the authors call ``attractors,'' neural networks that classify incoming information, rightly or wrongly, as ``if it conformed to past experience.'' If past experience has been good, the exchange of signals is mutual and reciprocal, that is, loving; if the experience has been bad, emotional signals are blocked or distorted, leading to adults who may be anxious, depressed, or addicted. Changing and developing new attractors, whether in relationships or in therapy, requires years of close contact; drugs can help, but self-help is a ``hoax'' and vaunted psychological insights are ``the popcorn of therapy.'' For reason is for the most part blind to the limbic edifice, and only when science partners with art will people reach their full potential. Taking their own advice, the authors pack the text with examples and similes drawn from music, literature, and film. Eloquent writing gives weight to a simple, albeit New Age-ish message: feelings count more than intellect in fashioning a healthy psyche. (Charts and illustrations, most not seen) (Author tour) -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"In elegant prose…[the authors] argue why we need a culture attuned to the ways of the heart."–Entertainment Weekly

From the Inside Flap

Drawing on new scientific discoveries and seventy years of collective clinical experience, three psychiatrists unravel life's most elemental mystery: the nature of love.

A primordial area of the brain, far older than reason or thinking, creates both the capacity and the need for emotional intimacy that all humans share. A General Theory of Love describes the workings of this ancient, pivotal urge and reveals that our nervous systems are not self-contained. Instead, our brains link with those of the people close to us, in a silent rhythm that makes up the very life force of the body. These wordless and powerful ties determine our moods, stabilize and maintain our health and well-being, and change the structure of our brains. In consequence, who we are and who we become depend, in great part, on whom we love.

A General Theory of Love applies these and other extraordinary insights to some of the most crucial issues we face in our lives. Its authors explain how relationships function and where love goes wrong, how parents shape a child's developing self, how psychotherapy really works, what curbs and what fosters violent aggression in our children, and how modern society regularly courts disaster by flouting emotional laws it does not yet recognize.

A work of rare originality, passion, and eloquence, A General Theory of Love will forever change the way you think about human intimacy.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

"A revolutionary book. In the tradition of Lewis Thomas, its authors transform hard science into page-turning lyricism. Every page provokes a shock of recognition as we see why the sources of our happiness lie far deeper in our brains than material goods, traditional psychotherapy, or self-help books have the power to reach. A reference book on life, this work deserves to be read and reread. It goes to the heart of what it means to be human."
--Madeline Levine, Ph.D., author of See No Evil: A Guide to Protecting Our Children from Media Violence


"Advancing a thesis as exciting in its way as Einstein's general theory of relativity, A General Theory of Love forges a wealth of fresh scientific research into a coherent thesis about the role of intimacy in our lives that is as eloquent as it is persuasive."


--Leonard Shlain, M.D., author of The Alphabet Versus the Goddess and Art & Physics


"A new and exciting integration of insights from many fields, A General Theory of Love provides an original understanding of human behavior. Clearly written, it is must reading for psychotherapists, patients, parents, teachers, and anyone who wants to better understand him- or herself."
--Paul Ekman, Ph.D., professor of psychology,
University of California, San Francisco, author of Telling Lies,
editor of Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals


"A General Theory of Love is a charmingly written, intriguing look at what the new frontiers of science tell us about the seemingly unscientific vagaries of human love. The authors explain the biological reasons behind what we already know in our hearts: Our need for love is wired deeply within us, and from infancy to old age our happiness depends upon receiving it. A General Theory of Love is both a revelation and a guide."
--Danielle Crittenden, author of What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Thomas Lewis, M.D.  is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, and a former associate director of the Affective Disorders Program there. Dr. Lewis currently divides his time between writing, private practice, and teaching at the UCSF medical school. He lives in Sausalito, California.

Fari Amini, M.D. is a professor of psychiatry at the UCSF School of Medicine. Born and raised in Iran, he graduated from medical school at UCSF and has served on the faculty there for thirty-three years. Dr. Amini is married, has six children, and lives in Ross, California.

Richard Lannon, M.D. is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCSF School of Medicine. In 1980, Dr. Lannon founded the Affective Disorders Program at UCSF, a pioneering effort to integrate psychological concepts with the emerging biology of the brain. Dr. Lannon is married and the father of two; he lives in Greenbrae, California.


From the Hardcover edition.

From The Washington Post

[T]he bold A General Theory of Love looks to the future, acknowledging how much his left to learn about the biology of love while also celebrating what's been discovered so far....Convincingly connecting love and biology is no easy task. The three authors persuade by discussing the science of love without diluting its mystique....[E]minently readable. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

What is love, and why are some people unable to find it? What is loneliness, and why does it hurt? What are relationships, and how and why do they work the way they do?

Answering these questions, laying bare the heart's deepest secrets, is this book's aim. Since the dawn of our species, human beings in every time and place have contended with an unruly emotional core that behaves in unpredicted and confusing ways. Science has been unable to help them. The Western world's first physician, Hippocrates, proposed in 450 B.C. that emotions emanate from the brain. He was right-but for the next twenty-five hundred years, medicine could offer nothing further about the details of emotional life. Matters of the heart were matters only for the arts-literature, song, poetry, painting, sculpture, dance. Until now.

The past decade has seen an explosion of scientific discoveries about the brain, the leading edge of a revolution that promises to change the way we think about ourselves, our relationships, our children, and our society. Science can at last turn its penetrating gaze on humanity's oldest questions. Its revelations stand poised to shatter more than a few modern assumptions about the inner workings of love.

Traditional versions of the mind hold that Passion is a troublesome remnant from humanity's savage past, and the intellectual subjugation of emotion is civilization's triumph. Logical but dubious derivations follow: emotional maturity is synonymous with emotional restraint. Schools can teach children missing emotional skills just as they impart the facts of geometry or history. To feel better, outthink your stubborn and recalcitrant heart. So says convention.

In this book, we demonstrate that where intellect and emotion clash, the heart often has the greater wisdom. In a pleasing turnabout, science-Reason's right hand-is proving this so. The brain's ancient emotional architecture is not a bothersome animal encumbrance. Instead, it is nothing less than the key to our lives. We live immersed in unseen forces and silent messages that shape our destinies. As individuals and as a culture, our chance for happiness depends on our ability to decipher a hidden world that revolves-invisibly, improbably, inexorably-around love.

From birth to death, love is not just the focus of human experience but also the life force of the mind, determining our moods, stabilizing our bodily rhythms, and changing the structure of our brains. The body's physiology ensures that relationships determine and fix our identities. Love makes us who we are, and who we can become. In these pages, we explain how and why this is so.

During the long centuries when science slumbered, humanity relied on the arts to chronicle the heart's mysterious ways. That accumulated wisdom is not to be disdained. This book, while traveling deep into the realm of science, keeps close at hand the humanism that renders such a journey meaningful. The thoughts of researchers and empiricists join those of poets, philosophers, and kings. Their respective starting points may be disparate in space, time, and temperament, but the voices in this volume rise and converge toward a common goal.

Every book, if it is anything at all, is an argument: an articulate arrow of words, fledged and notched and newly anointed with sharpened stone, speeding through paragraphs to its shimmering target. This book-as it elucidates the shaping power of parental devotion, the biological reality of romance, the healing force of communal connection-argues for love. Turn the page, and the arrow is loosed. The heart it seeks is your own.


From the Hardcover edition.
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