Friday, November 16, 2012

How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yalom

How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yalom
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: October 23, 2012
Source: Publisher – thank you!
Rating: I loved it!
Oh, how the French love love! For hundreds of years, they have championed themselves as guides to the art de l’amour through their literature, paintings, songs, and cinema. A French man or woman without amorous desire is considered defective, like someone missing the sense of smell or taste. Now revered scholar Marilyn Yalom intimately examines the tenets of this culture’s enduring gospel of romance. Basing her delightfully erudite findings on her extensive readings of French literature, as well as memories of her personal experiences in la belle France, Yalom explores the many nuances of love as it has evolved over the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the present. Following along, step-by-step, on her romance-tinged literary detective hunt, the reader discovers how the French invented love, how they have kept it vibrant for more than nine centuries, what is unique in the French love experience, and what is universal.

The Skinny: A charming book filled with all things French and romantic

Isn’t there something so alluring about French culture? Maybe it has something to do with the music or the food. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the French are impossibly chic. When I think of France, I immediately conjure images of romantic scenes and whispered words. When the French sing a song, I listen. When they discuss how they raise their children, I pay attention. When they make food, I eat. And when a book is written about love, I read. How the French Invented Love is one of the best nonfiction books I have read this year.

This book has it all: seduction, homosexual love, desire, and love letters. There is not a single type of passion or hue of love that is left uncovered. We are provided with a comprehensive look at this powerful emotion, and stories are provided to illustrate every interesting topic. The story of Lancelot and Guinevere struck me as a perfect example of deep admiration and of an unhealthy sort of love. If Guinevere told Lancelot to take a certain action, he immediately complied. Yalom writes that Lancelot obeys Guinevere the way many people obey God. To have a man be so passionately in love with someone that he would do anything for her is a notion that many women would enjoy. However, after reading this book, my perspective of love has changed. Love can be beautiful, but it can also be dangerous. It can drive someone to madness or greatness depending on the situation.

One of my favorite aspects of How the French Invented Love is the inclusion of real stories. One story is provided that briefly describes the horrors that one woman suffered at the hands of her sadistic pervert of a husband (Dear me. I can only imagine what sort of people will visit my blog now after including those words.) I appreciated Yalom’s observations and personal experiences. Her thoughtful musings added greatly to the plethora of information drawn from writers, historians, and books. The amount of research that went into creating How the French Invented Love is astounding, and I am impressed how seamlessly the gathered facts are weaved into the text.

One final point that I would like to touch upon is Yalom’s discussion of how the French have different versions of love and understand that this emotion can take many forms. In the States, we often believe that love is the happiest and most incredible feeling ever experienced. I appreciate the French people’s understanding that love is a powerful motivator for action. Jealously, passion, and seduction are all emotions under the umbrella of love. Americans are often conservative when it comes to this emotion, and I enjoyed reading about another culture’s perspective and belief.

If you enjoy reading books that are filled with interesting facts, great stories, and complex topics, I highly recommend How the French Invented Love. It wil, I hope, influence your own outlook on romantic relationships. And can we all just take a moment to admire that swoon-worthy cover!?

Marilyn Yalom is a former professor of French and presently a senior scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She is the author of widely acclaimed books such as A History of the BreastA History of the Wife, and Birth of the Chess Queen, as well as The American Resting Place: Four Hundred Years of History Through our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds, which includes a portfolio of photographs by her son Reid S. Yalom. She lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband, the psychiatrist and author Irvin D. Yalom.


  1. That is definitely a swoon-worthy cover - I just love it!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  2. I really enjoy when books like this include real life stories. It makes them seem so much easier to relate to.