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What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense Paperback – December 11, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 200 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"What Is Marriage? There is the question. Thanks to these three eloquent authors for so cogently reminding us of that, and for showing us how reflective reason answers it."
-- Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York

"This book brilliantly explains why the definition of marriage is so critical and why the strengthening of marriages is absolutely essential to our freedom and our future."
-- Dr. Rick Warren, Author of The Purpose Driven Life and Pastor of Saddleback Church

"A lot more is at stake in the marriage debate than the definition of a word, and this book reveals just how much. Its defense of marriage is philosophical and sociological, not theological, but people of all faiths will find it illuminating and edifying."
-- Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Zaytuna College

"What Is Marriage? is the most insightful, eloquent, and influential defense of marriage as it has been historically and rightly understood. People of all traditions--and everyone who cares about the future of this central and sacred social institution--owe Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George an extraordinary debt."
-- Meir Soloveichik, Associate Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and Director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University

"With many countries on the verge of redefining a basic social institution, What Is Marriage? issues an urgent call for full deliberation of what is at stake. The authors make a compelling secular case for marriage as a partnership between a man and a woman, whose special status is based on society's interest in the nurture and education of children."
-- Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University

"What a joy to see this book by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, which presents the most philosophically astute and historically accurate defense of traditional marriage to date. It exposes the incoherence of attempts to radically redefine marriage by showing the inherent wisdom in what is our oldest social institution."
-- David Novak, J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair in Jewish Studies, University of Toronto

About the Author

Sherif Girgis is a Ph.D. student in philosophy at Princeton University and a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Princeton, where he won prizes for best senior thesis in ethics and best thesis in philosophy, as well as the Dante Society of America's national Dante Prize, he obtained a B.Phil. in moral, political, and legal philosophy from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

Ryan T. Anderson is William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute. A Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, he is a Ph.D. candidate in political philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He has worked as assistant editor of First Things and was a Journalism Fellow of the Phil­lips Foundation. His writings have appeared in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, First Things, the Weekly Standard, National Review, the New Atlantis, and the Claremont Review of Books.

Robert P. George is a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School and McCormick Profes­sor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institu­tions at Princeton University. He is a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and previously served on the President's Council on Bioethics and as a presi­dential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. He is a recipient of the United States Presidential Citizens Medal and the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; 1St Edition edition (December 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594036225
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594036224
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (200 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John G. Burford IV on February 14, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

First, I should say a bit about my own background. I graduated from Princeton University in June 2012. During my senior year at Princeton, I took both of Professor Robert George's (one of the book's co-authors) courses, "Constitutional Interpretation" and "Civil Liberties." Before I took these classes, I was a pro-life libertarian, similar to Ron Paul. I was definitely in favor of gay marriage: I actually wrote my "Christian Ethics" midterm paper on how the Bible's stance on homosexuality had been widely misinterpreted. But during my senior fall, I was assigned the article version of "What is Marriage?" and I found its arguments quite convincing. Over the course of the next few months, I became a traditional marriage advocate and eventually became a social conservative.

Second, I thought I would offer a little perspective on how Professor George is seen by his fellow faculty and by his students. As you might imagine, the average student and the average professor at Princeton is quite liberal (the school newspaper published a survey in 2008 that showed that 80% of the student body and 95% of the faculty had voted for Obama). However, Professor George is widely respected on campus, even by those who vehemently disagree with him, because he takes care to have a strong rational principles for his beliefs, because he takes care to address the criticisms of the other side, and because of his personal warmth.

This balanced and rigorous approach to the material was borne out in our course readings, where Professor George always assigned the best arguments on both sides of the issue--he told us to let him know if we thought a particular position wasn't well-defended and that he would replace the reading with one we thought was better.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
What is Marriage? is an outstanding piece of persuasive writing. It is not a pop-politics book in the manner of Rachel Maddow, Glenn Beck, or Ann Coulter. It is not angry, snide or snarky It is a serious book about public policy.

The authors are careful not to make arguments based on religion. There is also no anti-gay animus (unless you think that supporting marriage as it has been traditionally known is per se anti-gay). Frankly, the book is not about gays or gay marriage. It is about marriage and what distinguishes it from all other relationships.

I think defenders of traditional marriage (or what the authors call conjugal marriage) have frequently had a difficult time articulating their arguments because it's like arguing why a table must have a horizontal surface. It seems so obvious and has been defined thusly for so long that few serious scholars have thought about defending that definition. I am grateful that these authors have done such a good job articulating this defense.
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I was on the fence about how I felt regarding the constitutionality of same sex marriage when I downloaded this book on my Kindle, and I must say, after reading it, that I found the arguments set forth here to be much more compelling and cogent than any philosophical/legal arguments I've heard in favor of same sex marriage, which are for the most part, soundbites about the equal protection (which as a lawyer, I'm not convinced applies - but I'm open to being convinced otherwise). It reminds me of a quote I recently read: "Concealing the hard questions while free riding on truisms can be a powerful rhetorical strategy." - Steven Smith

Regardless of how you feel about the issue, it appears that it is one on which like minds can differ, and the authors are respectful and logical in the way they set out their arguments. For that, it's a well written and well researched book.

It disturbs me that many of the negative reviews I've read about this book accuse the authors of imposing their religious views on others - when in fact, a careful review of the book shows that there is no religious element to the arguments. I believe that when reviewing a book, a reviewer should give an honest assessment of the quality of the writing, and should not review a book negatively merely because he or she disagrees politically with its message. I started reading it with no preconceived notions or agenda, and after I was done I thought about it for several days afterward. To me, a book like that deserves a good review. Simply put - the authors are highly intelligent people who put a lot of thought into it, and it's worth reading and considering even if you disagree with them.
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After juxtaposing "Tricky Nicky's" review with "What is Marriage," I have to wonder if we read the same book. One of the best aspects of this eloquent, succinct resource is its ability to define its answer to the question it poses distinctly from peripheral irrelevances. For example, the book's introduction explains what the book is not. This is helpful in discounting Tricky Nicky's critique, as well as others, as mischaracterizations of the authors' argument.

While Tricky Nicky seems to think that the authors are simply clinging (perhaps Tricky Nicky would add "bitterly"?) to the definition of marriage because of its historical rooting - a history that Tricky Nicky then goes on to undermine - the authors in fact distinguish their argument from history or religious tradition. As the authors say, "from a thousand facts about how marriage has been, one can deduce nothing about how it should be." History is only employed here to the extent the history of marriage has a constant, which is that "the conjugal view of marriage is not uniquely Jewish or Christian; something quite similar to it was developed apart from these traditions." Nor is the common critique that the definition marriage has something to do with hatred to homosexuals relevant here. As the authors note, also at the outset, "the philosophical and legal principle that only coitus could consummate a marriage arose centuries before the concept of a gay identity . . . and even in cultures very favorable to homoerotic relationships (as in ancient Greece), something akin to the conjugal view [of marriage] has prevailed - and nothing like same-sex marriage was even imagined.
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