This is one of those books — and there are many these days — that deromanticize love, that seek to dispel illusions about poetic flight and ground love in spoon-feeding, diaper-changing, reading the same story again and again at bed time ... The book is interesting on nearly every page. He mixes a wide range of reference, both scientific and literary, in a way that is sometimes familiar but sometimes surprising and illuminating. Good writers make writing look easy, but what people like Lehrer do is not easy at all.
The animating idea of his intriguing new book is that two opposing psychological laws, habituation and love, shape much of human experience ... Lehrer uses scores of detailed vignettes to traverse a complicated intellectual landscape, eventually arriving at modern theories of love ... But is the book fun? At times, it is. Lehrer is a talent; he knows how to interpret complicated clinical studies and parse obtuse technical language. But the onslaught of scientific references can be overwhelming. There’s only so many times you can read 'a recent study suggests...' or 'according to a survey...' before your eyes glaze over. I also found the book’s big payoff — that love sustains us — a bit underwhelming.
Mr. Lehrer could have written something complex and considered. Books are still the slow food of the publishing business. Yet here is Mr. Lehrer, once again, serving us a nonfiction McMuffin ... His book is insolently unoriginal ... This book is a series of duckpin arguments, just waiting to be knocked down ... There’s a lot of dime-store counsel in this book, often followed by academic citations. It’s like reading an advice column by way of JSTOR ... Perhaps Mr. Lehrer has changed — personally. But not sufficiently as a writer. I fear it may be time, at long last, for him to find something else to do.
A Book About Love doesn’t waver from its author’s standard blueprint. First ask a straw-man question ('is love really make-believe?'), then tell a famous story ('a boy goes to a party…his name is Romeo'), relate it to some data from an aging academic ('a spry 80-year-old' who 'talks slowly, always pausing thoughtfully'), and finish with a platitude ('our lives become the sum of everyone we have loved'). Repeat, repeat, repeat ... Where the Lehrer of 10 years ago might have talked of love in terms of chemicals and neural cortex, the new one uses cottonmouth-inducing phrases like habituation, attunement, companionate love, limerence, and sexual communal strength. It’s just about as dreary as it sounds ... Despite its thorough vetting, A Book About Love has its share of suspect claims and wonky data. Lehrer may have given up on outright fraud, but he’s still prone to spreading bunk.
...there’s still an easiness to Lehrer’s writing about love, and it’s the speed of these pages — even when they share dense ideas — that probably helped him become so popular in the first place. The slurry of science is mercifully studded with juicy facts ... The most stirring parts of the book linger on the taunting idea that a perfect love is out of reach. In various passages that feel particularly meaningful, Lehrer is forthcoming — not about his situation as a writer or husband, but about his shortcomings as a parent ... As much as I enjoyed reading this exploration of love and loss, it was ultimately both too humble and too defensive.