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Marriage A History [Hardcover]

Stephanie Coontz

Price: CDN$ 36.00 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

May 24 2005
Marriage today is held up as a blissful haven of love and friendship, sex and stability. We long for the gold standard, the traditional marriage but marriage turns out to have a checkered past-the "traditional marriage" was evanescent. This real look at what people think of as "traditional" finally explains why so many married people are so unsatisfied.

In this groundbreaking book, award-winning historian Stephanie Coontz takes us on an eye- opening journey from the marital intrigues of ancient Babylon to the sexual torments of Victorian lovers to the current debates over the meaning and future of marriage. She provides the definitive story of marriage’s evolution from the arranged unions common since the dawn of civilization into the intimate, sexually fulfilling but volatile relationships of today.

For most of our history, marriage was not a relationship based on mutual love between a breadwinning husband and an at-home wife, but an institution devoted to acquiring wealth, power, and property. Picking a mate on the basis of something as irrational as love would have been considered absurd. Only in the nineteenth century did marriage move to the center of people’s emotional lives, when the wife became the "angel of the home" and the husband the "provider." Yet these Victorian ideals contain the seeds of today’s marriage crisis. As people began to expect romance and intimacy in their marriages, their unions became more fragile. The postwar era of the 1950s ushered in a brief "Golden Age" of marriage-the Ozzie and Harriet years-but the same advances in birth control, increased individual autonomy, and women’s equality that made marriage more satisfying than it had been in the past also undermined its stability.

Marriage has changed more in the last thirty years than in the previous five thousand, and few of the old "rules" for marriage still apply. In the courts, the op-ed pieces, and at the dinner table, battles rage over what marriage means, why people do it, and who can do it. Marriage, a History is the one book you need to understand not only the vicissitudes of modern marriage but also gay marriage, "living together" and divorce. Stephanie Coontz shatters dozens of myths about the past and future of married life and shows us why marriage, though more fragile today, can be more rewarding than ever before.


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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When considered in the light of history, "traditional marriage"—the purportedly time-honored institution some argue is in crisis thanks to rising rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births, not to mention gay marriage—is not so traditional at all. Indeed, Coontz (The Way We Never Were) argues, marriage has always been in flux, and "almost every marital and sexual arrangement we have seen in recent years, however startling it may appear, has been tried somewhere before." Based on extensive research (hers and others'), Coontz's fascinating study places current concepts of marriage in broad historical context, revealing that there is much more to "I do" than meets the eye. In ancient Rome, no distinction was made between cohabitation and marriage; during the Middle Ages, marriage was regarded less as a bond of love than as a " 'career' decision"; in the Victorian era, the increasingly important idea of true love "undermined the gender hierarchy of the home" (in the past, men—rulers of the household—were encouraged to punish insufficiently obedient wives). Coontz explains marriage as a way of ensuring a domestic labor force, as a political tool and as a flexible reflection of changing social standards and desires. She presents her arguments clearly, offering an excellent balance between the scholarly and the readable in this timely, important book. Agent, Susan Rabiner. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Coontz explores how marriage has evolved, from the introduction of romantic love through modern-day attempts to balance changing sex roles. As society separated marriage from economics, it also made marriage more fragile and subject to the vagaries of emotions. Coontz notes that all of the permutations of marriage that we now consider new and radical have been seen before and that generations throughout history have always looked back in nostalgia at their parents' and grandparents' generations with idealized notions of marriage. Part 1 focuses on the evolution of the idea of marriage for love; part 2 examines the politics of marriage from ancient history through the modern age; part 3 explores how marriage has evolved from the Victorian era to the 1950s Ozzie-and-Harriet model; part 4 looks at the forces that have led to rising divorce rates and challenges to the very definition of marriage. Coontz offers a fascinating and incredible breadth of cultural and historical viewpoints on an institution that is perpetually considered to be in a state of crisis. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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