cover image A Natural History of Love

A Natural History of Love

Diane Ackerman. Random House (NY), $23 (358pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40347-0

Following up her well-received A Natural History of the Senses , poet and journalist Ackerman less successfully attempts to limn the complex emotion of love for the general reader. Her perspective is both long--beginning with the first writings about love from ancient Egypt and Greece--and wide, encompassing love of pets, religious fervor and altruism, along with her principle focus on romantic love. Ackerman's impassioned prose occasionally takes on a purple cast (``Love feeds a million watchfires in the encampment of the body,'' she observes in a discussion of how love is often felt as a burning), but seems well suited to both the topic and her often personalized approach. Chronicling the changing views of love through mostly Western history from Roman times through the Middle Ages and the era of Romanticism to the present, she cites the writings of Plato, Proust and Freud, among others. Delving into anthropology, psychology and neurology, as well as literature, she considers the social and evolutionary roles of love, marraige rituals and such love objects as horses and cars. Ackerman's overview is more selective than comprehensive, but that very idiosyncracy may add to the popular appeal of the volume, sections of which have previously appeared in Parade and the New York Times Magazine. First serial to Parade; BOMC featured selection. (June)