Cover image for A general theory of love
A general theory of love
Lewis, Thomas, 1964-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2000]

Physical Description:
viii, 274 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF575.L8 L49 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



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.

Author Notes

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. 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 Dr. Lannon is married and the father of two; he lives in Greenbrae, California.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

The word "general" in the title suggests the scope and audacity of what the authors have attempted. Taking a few recent findings from the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of emotions and the study of infant-mother attachment, the authors (all psychiatrists at Univ. of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine) have fashioned a far-reaching biosocial theory of human relatedness, which they use to explain familial and romantic love and various kinds of psychopathology and social problems (e.g., drug abuse, violence). At the heart of the theory is "limbic resonance": more than simple recognition of another's emotions, limbic resonance involves a neurophysiological synchrony that sets the stage for "limbic regulation," in which two people "modulate each other's emotions, neurophysiology, hormonal status, immune functions, sleep rhythms and stability." Limbic resonance and its disruption account for a variety of positive and negative biological, social, and interpersonal phenomena, from the people one chooses as romantic partners to sudden infant death syndrome. Although this reviewer thinks the authors make too much of the limbic brain concept (which Joseph LeDoux critiques in The Emotional Brain, 1996), the book is distinguished by ambition and daring, creative and insightful use of theory and research from a wide variety of disciplines, and especially the almost poetic language and the beauty of the arguments. Highly recommended. R. R. Cornelius; Vassar College

Booklist Review

This is not a castles-in-the-air philosophical tome. The authors, clinicians all, aim to help physicians treat patients by showing how the many and varied aspects of love, including the lack and the warping of it, affect patients' problems and strengths and by discussing what must, therefore, be involved in treating patients. They demonstrate how love affects individuals at different stages in their lives, drawing on the scientifically known formative processes of human physiology, anatomy, and psychology to do so. They then show how love can actually change an individual's functioning and internal structure. The resulting cogent combination of science, practical medicine, literary citation, and everyday wisdom should help open-minded physicians and patients. Much of the scientific basis of the multifaceted emotion called love remains to be discovered, but what is already known can now be put to effective medical use in a close-knit physician-patient relationship. "Medicine," the authors warn, "was once mammalian and is now reptilian." Are you curious now? --William Beatty

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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. Excerpted from A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
1. The Heart's Castle: Science Joins the Search for Lovep. 3
2. Kits, Cats, Sacks, and Uncertainty: How the Brain's Basic Structure Poses Problems for Lovep. 16
3. Archimedes' Principle: How We Sense the Inner World of Other Heartsp. 35
4. A Fiercer Sea: How Relationships Permeate the Human Body, Mind, and Soulp. 66
5. Gravity's Incarnation: How Memory Stores and Shapes Lovep. 100
6. A Bend in the Road: How Love Changes Who We Are and Who We Can Becomep. 121
7. The Book of Life: How Love Forms, Guides, and Alters a Child's Emotional Mindp. 145
8. Between Stone and Sky: What Can Be Done to Heal Hearts Gone Astrayp. 165
9. A Walk in the Shadows: How Culture Blinds Us to the Ways of Lovep. 191
10. The Open Door: What the Future Holds for the Mysteries of Lovep. 227
Notesp. 231
Bibliographyp. 241
Acknowledgmentsp. 255
Indexp. 261