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THE BOOK OF THE HEART by Louisa Young Kirkus Star


by Louisa Young

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2003
ISBN: 0-385-50173-0
Publisher: Doubleday

English journalist Young takes an engaging journey around the human heart, exploring the manifold meanings that have been attached to this vital human organ.

Variously defining the heart as the “the link between flesh and soul and God” and “the home of humanity’s great mystery, great energy, great blessing: love,” the author begins by offering a brief look at the organ itself. In “Chamber One: The Anatomist’s Heart,” she traces the evolution through the ages of knowledge about its anatomy and function, describes what can go wrong with it and how these wrongs are righted. “Chamber Two: The Religious Heart” reveals the roles the heart has played in the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians and Aztecs, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. Young delineates the magical power attributed to the heart among peoples around the world, illuminating its power as a symbol with such examples as the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary, bloody sacrifices to the god Quetzacoatl, cannibalistic rituals in ancient Egypt and modern-day China. Her scope is broad in “Chamber Three: The Heart in Art,” encompassing Leonardo drawings, Bernini sculpture, African drums, playing cards, and postage stamps. “Chamber Four: The Lover’s Heart” argues that as the heart sexualizes spirituality so does it spiritualize sex. Here, Young fills her pages with love poems, from the lyrics of a Hank Williams ballad to the sonnets of Shakespeare, and with gruesome tales of love gone wrong. (Apparently, tricking a faithless spouse into eating her slain lover’s heart was once deemed appropriate.) The quote-heavy text is fascinating, along with especially appealing illustrations ranging from cave drawings to Frida Kahlo paintings.

A gem. The author’s enthusiasm for her subject and her lighthearted scholarship make this a pleasure to read or just browse. (80 b&w illustrations, 2 appendices)