Book Review: Cupid’s Arrow

Cupid’s Arrow:  The Course Of Love Through Time, by Robert J. Sternberg

After spending a lot of time writing about creativity, the author made a mid-career sort of switch into writing about love.  The results were mixed and this book certainly is evidence of that.  This book certainly had some influence in the study of love, but not to the extent that the author was thinking and was undertaken in such a way that the author himself later gently made fun of the work in later writings as an example of the way that he thought of everything in terms of triangles and three-factor theories, not as creative as he would have thought it to be.  Even though this work has been frequently compared to other work in the field and considered not particularly creative, it offers at least a somewhat conventional view of love that many of us who have seen love in psychology have seen.  If there are aspects of love that this book does not get right or at least not completely, this book certainly provides insight and is a perspective worth arguing about and debating, and that is certainly a successful sign for a book of this nature.

This book is a bit less than 200 pages and is divided into five parts and thirteen chapters.  The author begins with a preface.  After that there are four chapters that examine the definition of love in the eyes of the author (I), including a three-component view of love (1), the author’s comments of seven types of love (2), and examining both different triangles of love (3) as well as the measurement of the triangle of love (4).  The author then discusses the issue of love over many lifetimes (II), with chapters on the prehistory of love (5), the history of love revealed through culture (6), and the history of love revealed through literature (7), the latter two chapters of which include collaborative work with two women.  There are three sections on love in our lifetimes, focusing on beginnings (III), middles (IV), and ends (V).  First, we have two chapters that discuss the role of childhood and adolescence (8) as well as adulthood (9) in our relationships.  After that there are two chapters that discuss the role of reward (10) in love as well as the course of relationships (11).  Finally, the last two chapters of the book discuss the decay of relationships (12) and the dissolution of and new beginnings for relationships (13), after which there are notes and an index.

Does the author have some understanding of the course of love through time?  Absolutely.  Is this understanding complete?  Not necessarily.  Does it have blind spots and is the view of the author decisive in selecting and choosing among the elements of love that are brought to the attention of the reader?  Certainly.  Even more than in most areas of research, the research into love is highly difficult to accomplish, not least because it has such high stakes for the author that they are nearly always going to infuse their own views about what sorts of love are to be favored over others or not even considered to be love at all into what they view as an objective view.  In few areas of research is subjectivity so common and are essential definitions as to what love can be considered so elusive.  If the author often fails to appreciate the subjectivity in his analysis, the book is by no means offensive in its discussion of love but is at least something that will resonate partly with the experience of many readers and encourage their own thinking and reflection on these subjects with the awareness that they are part of a complex conversation about the subject.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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