Journalist Lehrer addresses the power of human attachment.
The author, two of whose earlier books were taken out of print for plagiarism and invention of quotations and who lost his job at the New Yorker as a result, avoids any such potential problems in a book that is as nebulous as its title suggests. Lehrer footnotes and cites sources constantly and scrupulously, with the result that the book looks more like an academic paper than a work of popular psychology. Unfortunately, he is so restrained and careful that he doesn’t risk saying anything new. The author’s main argument is that “love hold[s] us together, when everything else falls apart.” The kind of love he praises is not the “fickle desire” of Romeo and Juliet but the steady bond that endures over time. “Love is the ultimate source of lasting pleasure,” he writes, “but let’s be honest: it’s also the hardest work. That’s why it takes grit.” Lehrer chronicles his interviews with a few researchers, most notably “spry eighty-year-old” George Vaillant, who interviewed subjects of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a decadeslong examination of men who attended Harvard, and came to the conclusion that “Happiness equals love. Full stop.” For the most part, however, Lehrer rehashes familiar territory, covering the experiments of early-20th-century psychologists John Watson and John Bowlby and scanning the novels of Jane Austen for their insights. In general, the author comes to the conclusion that the ability to love is based on attachments formed with parents in infancy and early childhood. In the longest sections of the book, he dutifully covers love for one’s parents, one’s spouse, one’s children, and God. He tends to favor examples of love involving heterosexual couples with children.
While the book adequately covers a good deal of research and systematically examines the rewards and challenges of intimacy, it doesn’t make love sound like a whole lot of fun.