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Just when the clamor over "traditional" marriage couldn’t get any louder, along comes this groundbreaking book to ask, "What tradition?" In Marriage, a History, historian and marriage expert Stephanie Coontz takes readers from the marital intrigues of ancient Babylon to the torments of Victorian lovers to demonstrate how recent the idea of marrying for love is—and how absurd it would have seemed to most of our ancestors. It was when marriage moved into the emotional sphere in the nineteenth century, she argues, that it suffered as an institution just as it began to thrive as a personal relationship. This enlightening and hugely entertaining book brings intelligence, perspective, and wit to today’s marital debate.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014303667X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036678
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces

Customer Reviews

Great read, if a little ponderous.

 on September 16, 2017
By Ron P.
This is a fascinating read for anyone who ever wondered what marriage and interpersonal relationships in the western world looked like 100, 200, 300 years ago. We tend to operate under the assumption that the institution has always served pretty much the same purposes it does today, but Coontz’s book shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage, in fact, has served so many varied economic, cultural, political and personal purposes over the centuries that it makes one wonder why people today get so worked up over gay marriage and other changes which continue to reflect the changing mores of western culture. That said, the first half of the book is a bit of a slog; the author giving far too many examples of little known historical characters and the oddities of their marriages. It picks up in the second half (I’m just now getting into that part) where she talks about changes brought about in the early 20th century by the industrial revolution and heightened expectations on the part of women at the end of the Victorian era. This part of the book is just easier to relate to by someone born mid-century like myself.

Much more than just about marriage

One person found this helpful.
 on June 3, 2014
By Waldir Pimenta
While one might expect this book to cover topics like the evolution of the concepts of love, romanticism, sexuality, and yes, the economics of marriages (and especially arranged marriages), in the end it is really a book about human culture and history. It seems no other structure has been as central to our societies’ organization, functioning and evolution as marriage and its relationship with family bonds, economic interactions, alliances and wars, and politics.

Excellent Writing

One person found this helpful.
 on September 25, 2013
By Elden
This is an informative book on the history of marriage. At last written by someone who went to the trouble to find the factual content and write about it from an inside point of view. When you find the gems of truth about marriage it all makes sense. Who on earth started that tradition? Where did it come from, and why it was implemented? Really interesting read.

Must-Have for American Cultural History Nerds

One person found this helpful.
 on April 16, 2015
By Lindance
Borrowed this from the library but loved it so much I had to buy my own copy. Given the debate on gay marriage, I was looking to learn more about marriage in American culture and history. Found this treasure, which goes way back centuries and covers marriage traditions and attitudes from around the world. Absolutely informative and eye-opening. Highly recommended.

Let’s Make A Deal

6 people found this helpful.
 on August 30, 2011
By Franklin the Mouse
Speaking as a 51-year-old man who has been happily married for 28 years and raising two sons, Ms. Coontz’s trip through the evolution of marriage was very helpful, reassuring and illuminating. Almost from the onset of our marriage back in 1983, friends told us we had an “unconventional” relationship. When in reality, we were just a little ahead of the curve. Our relationship is based on trust, mutual respect and a commitment to working through the inevitable problems that will arise from living with another person. Unlike authors of countless, silly marriage advice books, Ms. Coontz is a historian who did the homework in researching the evolution of marriage. The Ozzie-and-Harriet template that many people view as how “traditional” marriages were through most of history before the radical 1960s shot everything to hell is simply pure bunk. The author is to be commended for explaining how marriage is an ever-evolving institution since its early inception and will continue to do so well after you and I are worm food. In over 30 years, I’ve read a boatload of material about different historical periods and Ms. Coontz’s assessment rings true. This well-written, entertaining work helped put this peculiar institution into proper perspective. It was very therapeutic. Whatever stage of life you are in, do yourself and favor and read Ms. Coontz’s book.


2 people found this helpful.
 on November 9, 2015
By lbr1022
Fascinating read; a lot of interesting facts and information about marriages around the world.

Needs to be updated in a new edition, some …

One person found this helpful.
 on May 27, 2016
By Rachels
Needs to be updated in a new edition, some terminology is outdated and in one of the closing chapters she argues how unlikely gay marriage is to pass!

Excellent Scholarship w/ over 100 pages of footnotes and references

One person found this helpful.
 on December 8, 2016
By John Motyka
Excellent Scholarship w/ over 100 pages of footnotes and references. Easy, extensive read. While worth learning the historical meaning of ‘Traditional Marriage’. WW II changed everything. Enjoy…jdm

Five Stars

One person found this helpful.
 on September 6, 2016
By Katy G.
Amazing book! I got it for a class but still really enjoyed reading it!

How Marriage in the U.S. came to be

3 people found this helpful.
 on June 6, 2015
By Kindle Customer
I really like how this book chronicles various ideals of marriage and how things economically and environmentally factored into how marriages came to be. There are no illusions here about marriage being about love all throughout history. This was very much not the case as marriage was something done out of necessity in many cultures for various reasons. This book is amazing and has given me a great deal of insight with regards to what marriage has meant in the past.