Love A History Simon May

Publication date:
15 May 2011
Yale University Press
294 pages: 235 x 156mm

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.

Simon May is visiting professor of philosophy at King's College London, and Birkbeck, University of London.

"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

“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

"Rich, provocative and illuminating."—Jane O’Grady, Times Higher Education

“[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

“Intellectually engaging. . . Provocative.”—Charlotte Allen, The Wall Street Journal