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Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage

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About Marriage, A History

One of the Best Books of 2005

Marriage, A History, has been selected as one of the best books of 2005 by the Washington Post. The Post cites Coontz's book as one which "neatly, entertainingly and convincingly deconstructs a number of our most cherished and least examined beliefs about the bonds that tie men and women together, for better and for worse." more...

What Other Authors Have to Say About Marriage, A History

"Marriage, a History is filled with amazing stories and examples for all eras. Coontz is scholarly, incisive and entertaining. She tackles our most central questions about the meaning of marriage with evidence, not platitudes. Her powerful book is timely and profoundly apt." —Dr. Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls

"Brimming with surprises and rich with insight. Stephanie Coontz provides a penetrating and fresh look at an institution we thought we knew well. Marriage, a History is not just a survey of varying cultural and historical approaches to marriage; it is a probing yet unbiased analysis of some of the most important, and divisive, issues of our day. For anyone who cares about the future of our society." —Ellis Cose, author Bone to Pick and Envy of the World

"This is a magnificent, beautifully written book on an eternally interesting—and politically timely—subject. Coontz's vast knowledge and superb scholarship should make this book the resource for anyone who is married, was married, wants to marry, can't marry, hates the very thought of marrying, or thinks they know what the one right kind of marriage is." —Carol Tavris, Ph.D., author of The Mismeasure of Woman

"Marriage, a History will force an entire reevaluation of our so-called marriage crisis in America. Coontz's exquisitely written new book is a must read, not only for those of us in a modern marriage, or, with mixed emotions, contemplating commitment, but for every policy and law maker who would have us believe they have a monopoly on the truth. A page-turner." —Willam S. Pollack, Ph.D., author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Masculinity

"Stephanie Coontz has written an extraordinary book with a powerful message: that today's marriages are fragile not because Americans have become more self-centered and career-minded, but because we expect more from marriage than any previous generation. Scrupulously researched, filled with fascinating detail, and written with grace, humor, and wisdom, this book reveals that marriage is not a static, unchanging, and increasingly unattainable ideal, but a relationship whose success or failure ultimately depends on our willingness to adapt to social realities unlike any that existed in the past." —Steven Mintz, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of History, University of Houston and author of Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

"I love this book! It is sheer pleasure. Stephanie Coontz has delivered another pathbreaking, dialogue creating, scholarly tour de force! This book is the best source we could possibly use to credibly inform us about how modern marriage was created and what our past tells us about our future: trenchant analysis, interesting data, and graceful prose. I can think of no other modern scholar who so perfectly helps us explore the themes of modern marital malaise or who helps us understand who we are now—and how we got there." —Pepper Schwartz Ph.D., author of American Couples: Money, Work and Sex and Love Between Equals: How Peer Marriage Really Works

"Fair, lucid and enormously informative. It may outlive us all, for Coontz has captured our times like a bug in amber." —Professor Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Love

Reviews of Marriage, A History

Union Evolution

Tampa Tribune, August 24, 2005. By Wendy Malloy, Tribune correspondent

TAMPA The state of the marriage union is solid, says Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage, A History," but maintaining a vibrant, fulfilling partnership requires communication, commitment and compromise. No big surprise. More...

For Better or Worse

California Literary Review, August 16, 2005. By David Loftus

Like the disappearance of the well-mannered and respectful adolescent, the imminent (or, for some commentators, already accomplished) collapse of the institution of marriage has been a popular lament, at least since the mid 1960s. More...

Enduring Union

Washington Post, June 26, 2005. By Judith Warner

Stephanie Coontz's new book, which traces the evolution of marriage from the Stone Age to the Internet Age, extends into the realm of matrimony the franchise that Coontz developed in her now-classic work of American social and economic history, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. More...

Marriage: Pass the Rose-colored Glasses

Houston Chronicle, Saturday June 18, 2005. By Jeannie Kever, Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Stephanie Coontz set out to prove there is no marriage crisis, despite the worrywarts who pointed to high divorce rates and the ever higher number of people living together without marriage. More...

What's Love Got to Do With It? Everything.

Newsweek, June 06, 2005. By Barbara Kantrowitz

For the true commitment-phobe, living among the Na people in southwestern China would be paradise. The Na are the only known society that completely shuns marriage. Instead, says Stephanie Coontz in her new book, "Marriage, a History," brothers help sisters raise the children they conceive through casual sex with nonfamily members (incest is strictly taboo). Will we all be like the Na in the future? More...

"Marriage, a History": For better and for worse

Seattle Times, May 27, 2005. By Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett.

A title along the lines of "Marriage, a History: Always Tricky, Never Boring" would have been more fitting for this comprehensive book but, alas, apparently there's no bucking the trend for subtitles that make one want to lie down and rest immediately after the title page.

If the subtitle or the hefty size of "Marriage, a History," the latest work by historian Stephanie Coontz of The Evergreen State College, scares some people off, it's their loss. Coontz knows her stuff, and she communicates it in a steadily engrossing style.More...

Marriage today is about writing your own story, says author

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 27, 2005. By Diane Urbani de la Paz.

Realize this each morning as you awaken alongside your spouse: You two have a story to write.

It's about your marriage, and everybody in it plays a non-traditional part. More...

Score one for Cupid

The New York Times Company, May 15, 2005. By Ellen Goodman.

Now that we have celebrated the paper anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, may we pause for a moment to admit that the opponents were right: Same-sex marriage is proof of a crisis in traditional marriage.

But gay marriage is not the cause of the crisis, it's a consequence. The true culprit is, well, Cupid.

Nowadays, "We don't just write our own vows, we write our own lives," says Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage, a History" (Viking), a survey of how marriage morphed from an institution -- a stone cathedral packed with family members -- into a snug home custom-built by each couple. More...

Marital history What's love got to do with it?

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 22, 2005. By Polly Drew.

Pop quiz: When you think of a "traditional marriage," what comes to mind?

A. Mom stays home and raises the children while dad goes outside the home to work. Mom does most of the household chores while dad makes the money to provide food, shelter, education and all that comes with a happy family life. Because mom and dad love each other very much, this arrangement is happy and joyous.

B. Two people marry, usually in an arranged union. This is done to advance the family labor force and obtain political and economic advantage. In-laws are a huge key to the success of the marriage. Women are subservient. More...

State of the Union

O Magazine, June 2005. By Peter Smith

Marriage isn't what it used top be. A Provocative new books suggests that's all as well.

"I do." With this declaration, countless women and men over the centuries have strode down the marital aisle, vowing to love each other till...

Hold the chocolate truffles! As college professor and family historian Stephanie Coontz observes in her erudite, myth-shattering Marriage, a History (Viking), love and marriage have traditionally gone together like a horse and well, a giant radioactive tangerine. Among Coontz's revelation: that the founders of Christianity believe that remaining single and celibate was a far more sacred state than taking a husband or a wife. That until the Victorian era, marriage had everything to do with acquiring influential in-laws, forging political alliances, hoarding wealth, and expanding a family's labor force. That contrary to the current widespread nostalgia for a postwar Leave it to Beaver "golden age of marriage," divorce rates from the mid 1940s through the '50s were higher than in any previous decade--and haveactually fallen since 1981. That in America's conservative Bible Belt, out-of-wedlock birth and divorce rates are higher today than in any other region of the country. Coontz's endlessly fascinating history lends some much-needed perspective to present-day political caterwauling that marriage in in unprecendented peril, and that America has lost sight of its core moral values. In fact, if equality, mutual respect, negotiation, friendship, freedom, an--yes--love are among the characteristics of enduring wedlock, the truly moral, truly value-driven golden age of marriage is right now.

From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage

Publisher's Weekly, May 2005

When considered in the light of history, "traditional marriage"--the purportedly time-honored institution some argue is in crisis thanks to rising rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births, not to mention gay marriage--is not so traditional at all. Indeed, Coontz (The Way We Never Were) argues marriage has always been in flux, and "almost every marital and sexual arrangement we have seen in recent years, however startling it may appear, has been tried somewhere before." Based on extensive research (hers and others'), Coontz's fascinating study places current concepts of marriage in broad historical context, revealing that there is much more to "I do" than meets the eye. In ancient Rome, no distinction was made between cohabitation and marriage; during the Middle Ages, marriage was regarded less as a bond of love than as a "career decision"; in the Victorian era, the increasingly important idea of true love "undermined the gender hierarchy of the home" (in the past, men--rulers of the household--were encouraged to punish insufficiently obedient wives.) Coontz explains marriage as a way of ensuring a domestic labor force, as a political tool and as a flexible reflection of changing social standards and desires. She presents her arguments clearly, offering an excellent balance between the scholarly and the readable in this timely, important book.

How the Marriage Institution has Evolved, from Primitive Societies to the Present

Kirkus Reviews

Coontz (Family Studies/Evergreen State) turns from scrutiny of the family (The Way We Really Are, 1997, etc.) to examination of marriage itself. With a host of examples, she considers the long-established system of marriages as they were arranged for economic, social and political advantage. These involved the input of parents, in-laws, siblings, rival nobles, concubines and, after the Middle Ages, popes, bishops and church reformers as well. This system, Coontz finds, remained the norm until the 18th century, when the spread of the market economy and the beginning of the Enlightenment brought profound changes. By the end of that century, the model of a love-based, male-protector marriage was firmly in place, with men and women seen as occupying separate spheres of existence, each dependent on the other and each incomplete without marriage. While the early-20th century saw changes in sexual expressiveness and relations between the sexes, the love-based model persisted, culminating in "the golden age of marriage" in the 1950s. It was, Coontz says, a "unique moment in the history of marriage," a time when breadwinner husband and stay-at-home mom were considered the norm, and marriage provided the context for the greater part of most people's lives. While short-lived, the 1950s model has come to be regarded by many as "traditional marriage," an ideal whose decline is mourned. Coontz, however, exposes that view as shortsighted. Using both story and statistic, she demonstrates that for most of human history marriage has been an alliance held together by outside forces, and that an array of societal transformations continue even now to shape the institution. Just as the long-lived economic/political model can't be revived, she counsels, neither can the 1950s "traditional" model. In her concluding chapters, she examines the pluses and minuses of contemporary marriage and looks at the value of alternatives. A rich, provocative and entertaining social history.

Publisher's Contact Information

Amity Murray, 212.366.2227
A member of the Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

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