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Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential--and Endangered Hardcover – April 6, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Hardcover, April 6, 2010
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Editorial Reviews


“Empathy, and the ties that bind people into relationships, are key elements of happiness. Born for Love is truly fascinating.” (Gretchen Rubin, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project)

“Once in awhile a book changes the way I experience the world. This time it’s Born For Love, by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz. Their book explores how children learn to love-or not. No work of fiction is as compelling.” (Denver Post)

“An accessible and important work of popular science.” (BigThink.com)

“Strikingly original and thought-provoking, Born for Love explores the crucially important role empathy plays in all of our lives. It should be required reading for every parent, partner, and friend.” (Annie Murphy Paul, author of Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives)

From the Back Cover

Uncover the startling importance of empathy

From birth, when babies' fingers instinctively cling to those of adults, their bodies and brains seek an intimate connection—a bond made possible by empathy, the remarkable ability to love and to share the feelings of others.

In this unforgettable book, award-winning science journalist Maia Szalavitz and renowned child-psychiatrist Bruce D. Perry explain how empathy develops, why it is essential both to human happiness and for a functional society, and how it is threatened in the modern world.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006165678X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061656781
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #643,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end," quoted from Disraeli,is how Perry and Szalavitz start an exploration of how children learn to love-or not. Perry is an international expert on how childhood trauma, abuse or neglect leaves developmental gaps in a young girl or boy's brain. More importantly, he tells what we can do about it. Szalavitz is an award-winning science journalist who creates a coherent narrative of the ten children and their families who are the characters of this book. No work of fiction is as compelling as entering the lives of these young children and their journey to young adulthood.

Humans need the capacity for empathy-without it, the ability to love is lost. These children are hungry, even desperate for love, and hungry for learning, but the deficits in brain development due to the trauma, drama and chaos of the first four years of life, during which their brains were literally organizing, resonates down their early years. Perry makes the case that all the "Golden Rules" in major religions show how "morality depends on our ability to see the world from other points of view. And this starts with mirror neurons." Right there is what makes this book unique; what we experience as religious, moral and ethical choices in life all begin with what our brains are capable of. "Empathy is the basis of compassionate action...the foundation of trust, which is necessary for the successful functioning of everything from relations to families to governments and, yes, to economies."

What I love about Perry's approach, though, is the lack of moralizing. Here's what happened to this kid's brain and when; here's the consequences of that, now and in the future.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
So much is right about the content and message of this book that I will leave it up to the reader to obtain a copy and find out for themselves.

"Born for Love" follows on the heals of the successful "The Boy who was Raised as a Dog" also penned by the Perry/Szalavitz duo. The latest book draws out several concepts that desperately need to be understood and expressed by all current and future caregivers of children. First is the fact that much of the "learning" that occurs between birth and three years of age often will not be consciously remembered, but will nevertheless influence, often strongly, one's behavior beyond childhood. This can flare up especially acutely when the adult with an abusive past finds themselves struggling to care for a child themselves. The second is the general misconception that "intelligence" allows one to overcome the psychological scars of abuse. A case in point is presented in the book of Ryan, a boy who used his intelligence to excel in his studies and in his social sphere without revealing or being able to repair his internal, disconnected emotional world, until it erupted in a cold, violent crime. For most survivors of abuse emerging toward healthier lives, recovery relies more on supportive relationships than intelligence. Third is the concept of early relationships as a "template" for future relationships. Indeed, just as half of each parent's DNA served as a template (the actual word use to describe DNA copying) for DNA found in their child, would it not be parsimonious for parental behavior to provide a template upon which the child builds his/her own emotional and behavioral repertoire?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As both a parent and a professional who works with families, I can't say how appreciative I am to these authors for writing a book that takes the very clinical and technical issues of trauma and human development and somehow turns healing processes into something the rest of us can really understand how to do. They have a remarkable way of linking the human story to the greater need to understand the long term impacts of complex trauma and the developmental barriers associated with trauma and neglect. If a book could shine, this one would.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the best books I've read in several months--maybe several years. It covers a lot of ground. Based in Perry's knowledge of neuro-development and healthy human minds, it applies these insights to economic inequality, social trust, addictions, mental healthy and a whole bunch of other areas. Perry concludes that we live in a society that is fundamentally ignorant of what healthy brain development looks like.

Take heart disease. Whereas most doctors would prescribe exercise, maybe some red wine, or something else, Perry would prescribe some new friendships and more nourishing face-to-face social interaction. It's called "relational health".

Perry is particularly critical of child welfare institutions, criminal "justice" institutions, and other barbaric social rituals that Americans regularly engage in.
What I found most surprising--and interesting--was his criticism of many psychotherapists, especially those who unfailingly encourage their clients to "love themselves first" even if this means quickly leaving relationships and spending more time alone. Perry thinks that relationships are crucial to human health and the important thing is to learn how to communicate and empathize, not simply to leave your partner at the first sign of trouble. A rare voice indeed.

I unconditionally recommend this book to anyone who wants to live a better life or who cares about the world.
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