An illuminating exploration of how love has been shaped, idolized, and misconstrued by the West over three millennia, and how we might differently conceive it
Love—unconditional, selfless, unchanging, sincere, and totally accepting—is worshipped today as the West's only universal religion. To challenge it is one of our few remaining taboos. In this pathbreaking and superbly written book, philosopher Simon May does just that, dissecting our resilient ruling ideas of love and showing how they are the product of a long and powerful cultural heritage.
Tracing over 2,500 years of human thought and history, May shows how our ideal of love developed from its Hebraic and Greek origins alongside Christianity until, during the last two centuries, "God is love" became "love is God"—so hubristic, so escapist, so untruthful to the real nature of love, that it has booby-trapped relationships everywhere with deluded expectations. Brilliantly, May explores the very different philosophers and writers, both skeptics and believers, who dared to think differently: from Aristotle's perfect friendship and Ovid's celebration of sex and "the chase," to Rousseau's personal authenticity, Nietzsche's affirmation, Freud's concepts of loss and mourning, and boredom in Proust. Against our belief that love is an all-powerful solution to finding meaning, security, and happiness in life, May reveals with great clarity what love actually is: the intense desire for someone whom we believe can ground and affirm our very existence. The feeling that "makes the world go round" turns out to be a harbinger of home--and in that sense, of the sacred.
"May could just have achieved the seemingly impossible and produced a truly original philosophy of love... May is able to draw out what is true in each age’s perception of love, discard what is misleading, and synthesize the result into the most persuasive account of love’s nature I have ever read."—Financial Times
"Rich, provocative and illuminating."—Jane O’Grady, Times Higher Education
"Intellectually engaging . . . Provocative."—Charlotte Allen, The Wall Street Journal
"May could just have achieved the seemingly impossible and produced a truly original philosophy of love... May is able to draw out what is true in each age’s perception of love, discard what is misleading, and synthesise the result into the most persuasive account of love’s nature I have ever read."—Financial Times
"It’s a big question: what is love? May plunders Western poetry, philosophy and psychology to find answers, tracing our understanding from religious to romantic to ossified. Thought-provoking stuff."—Holly Kyte, Sunday Telegraph
"This book deserves to rank with Denis de Rougemont’s classic Love in the Western World. Readers…will gain much from May’s well-crafted study."—Library Journal
"[May’s] discussion…provides a coherent narrative that is aided by his illustrative writing."—Publishers Weekly
"Well written and provocative, this book challenges tradition."—R. White, Choice
"A powerfully demystifying critique . . . that aims to show what love can and cannot mean in our lives."—John Gray
'A beautifully written and fascinating account of the cultural history of love. Simon May gives a vindication of love that is both deeply insightful and inspiring, and, whether you believe that God is love or that Love is god, you will find your portrait in this book and rejoice in it.' - Roger Scruton
'May's enquiry into the nature of love is an amazing tour de force: surprising, provocative, refreshing and instructive by turns, it surpasses everything hitherto written on this subject in its scope and ambition.' - A.C. Grayling
'Simon May's Love is that rarest of achievements: scholarship as inspired illumination. Fluent, witty, humane, May explores Western concepts of love from the Torah to Romanticism and on to the “fascinating paradox” that the liberation of sex and marriage in our day coexists with retrograde, and at times destructive, notions of love. May offers a corrective, and the reasoning that takes us there is an utterly riveting adventure.' -Wendy Steiner, author of The Real Real Thing: The Model in the Mirror of Art