Book Review: Why We Love by Helen Fisher

 

Book Review by Ashley Huang

Described as a “thesis with startling ramifications” in the New York Times, Why We Love is a 300-page report explaining love – biologically, chemically, psychologically, sociologically, and evolutionarily. I personally found the read very insightful, learning more and more on not just romantic love in humans, but also the explanations for lust, emotional attachment, homosexual romance, and even cases of romantic love in animals! Sometimes a classmate would peer over my shoulder to see what I was reading, and if I was reading an awkward topic, I would immediately flip the book shut bashfully. But other times, when I was reading about the biology and chemical pathways of love, topics I derive passion for, the book would be a nonstop page-turner! I especially liked the explanations of how and why we fall in love, the nervousness, and butterflies, as well as the mechanisms behind the gut-wrenching depression of a breakup or rejection.

The author, Helen Fisher, PH.D., is an anthropologist who has conducted extensive surveys and brain imaging experiments on love while working with professors at Rutgers University. What I found most interesting about her was that she did not make Why We Love a science textbook; It was almost like a diary, where Fisher spilled her hypotheses’ and theories with superfluous and jejune language, similar to of a youngster smitten with self-discovery. I found the non-stop quotes of love from authors and poets such as Shakespeare, Voltaire, William Blake, and Mary Wollstonecraft enticing, but the real appeal was how she managed to dig out quotes of lovesick authors from ancient China, the Middle East, and the American Indians. The touch of history was sweet icing on the cake that really wrapped up the story.

Finally, what really made this book was the EVOLUTION. After all, Fisher is an anthropologist! I appreciated Fisher’s articulations on the who, what, when, where, why and how of romantic love in not just Homo Sapiens, but also our early forebears, past hominids and as far back as the earliest mammals. As a Generation Z living in the 21stcentury, it’s often hard for me to grasp the amazing history and timeline of how we came to be.  Better yet, the book was exciting because the evolution was entwined with the sweet concept of love, which somehow all fit together like perfect puzzle pieces!

However, there were a few issues I had with this book. Firstly, because Fisher is an anthropologist, my science-wired brain couldn’t help but question the validity of her statements and the credibility of her work. While I remained skeptical throughout her work, there were times when Fisher’s logic tied together pretty smoothly. After all – the Law of Parsimony states that “things are usually connected or behave in the simplest or most economical way, especially with reference to alternative evolutionary pathways.” Based on this, Fisher’s evolutionary claims should warrant at least some merit. Another problem I encountered was the fact that Why We Love was published in 2004.  Thus, as Fisher excitedly crowed on about the roles of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in romantic love, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, as this knowledge is practically eons old and is a basic staple in studies such as neuroscience. Nevertheless, I still vindicate some of Fisher’s chemical claims, as she did provide extremely interesting insight on hormones I didn’t know as much about, such as vasopressin. Overall, Why We Love was a page turner that taught me everything I wanted to know about love and more. I exceedingly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about themselves and society.

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