Stephanie Coontz, a left-leaning academic and veteran of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, would seem an unlikely defender of the institution of marriage. Marriage, A History sees a largely positive direction in the evolution of marriage. “Marriage has become more joyful, more loving, and more satisfying for many couples than ever before,” she writes.
But she soon tempers that rosiness: “At the same time it has become more optional and more brittle.” The way in which those two developments are connected is the story of this provocative and entertaining book. Marriages fail more often because we expect more of them—this is the inescapable yin and yang of the modern marriage dilemma. The author moves nimbly through history and ideas to offer valuable perspective on marriage’s past and likely future.