The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love

Marilyn Yalom

Basic Books, 2018

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

An eminent scholar follows the captivating history of the two-lobed heart symbol through scripture, tapestry, t-shirts, and text messages, shedding light on how we have imagined and experienced love since antiquity
The symmetrical, exuberant heart is everywhere: it gives shape to everything from candy and pendants to the frothy milk on top of a cappuccino. How can we explain the ubiquity of what might be the most recognizable symbol in the world? In The Amorous Heart, Marilyn Yalom tracks heart iconography across three thousand years, revealing that the history of the symbol, and the history of love itself, is defined by a tension between love as romantic and sexual on the one hand, and as religious and familial on the other. She shows just how, during the Enlightenment, the former kind of love won out. No longer a symbol of connection with God, the commonplace heart symbol ultimately represents the triumph of the secular.   

“Yalom’s writing is always clear and thoughtful, and at times (in congruence with her subject) it verges on the mildly frolicsome.”
Wall Street Journal

“This history of the heart will woo romantics and iconographers alike.”

“[An] illuminating study… combines an impressive depth and reach of knowledge with an engaging style that serves the popular topic well… It's fascinating to read of the changing relationships—cultural, psychological, metaphorical—between the heart and the head, the heart and the hand (given in marriage), and the heart and the genitalia.”
Kirkus Reviews

"Yalom's book is a scholarly and fresh approach to art history."
Publisher's Weekly

“An engaging and fascinating account of the heart becoming synonymous with love, both in the amorous sense and as a vehicle for the word of God. This slender volume contributes mightily to a small area of scholarship and would be beneficial to general and academic readers.”
Library Journal starred review


"From Christian theology to erotic poetry, Shakespearean drama to contemporary heart symbolism, The Amorous Heart is a fascinating history of the heart as symbol, icon, and inspiration."
Mercury News

"Fascinating and enlightening... Yalom takes us from the Ancient Egyptians (who believe the organ was the seat of amorous feelings) to the kitsch and commercialism of Valentine's Day and the advent of the emoji."
Indulge Magazine

“Lovers have histories; so do hearts. Sprouting in vines, burned in fires, frozen in icy jewels—the hearts in Marilyn Yalom’s new book seem in sympathy with Yalom herself: they will tell their secrets—not to just anyone, but to her, such a warm writer, yes, they will confide."
Alexander Nemerov, author of Soulmaker: The Times of Lewis Hine

“Another tour de force by one of America’s leading cultural historians.  Marilyn Yalom’s account of the heart’s symbolization as the seat of passion takes us from antiquity to the Middle Ages to Valentine kitsch of our own age.  An exquisite book full of historical surprises and revelations.”
Robert Pogue Harrison, Professor of Literature at Stanford University.

“For anyone whose heart has ever palpitated in love or devotion, this is a thumping romp through the history of hearts – in love, literature, illuminated manuscripts and Valentine cards.”
Christopher de Hamel, author of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts