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Marriage today is held up as a blissful haven of love and friendship, sex and stability. We long for the gold standard, the traditional marriage, but marriage turns out to have a checkered past. This real look at what people think of as "traditional" finally explains why so many people are so anxious about marriage.

In this groundbreaking book, award-winning historian Stephanie Coontz takes us on journey from the marital intrigues of ancient Babylon to the sexual torments of Victorian lovers to the current debates over the meaning and future of marriage. She provides the definitive story of marriage's evolution from the arranged unions common since the dawn of civilization into the intimate, sexually fulfilling but volatile relationships of today.

For most of our history, marriage was not a relationship based on mutual love between a breadwinning husband and an at-home wife, but an institution devoted to acquiring wealth, power, and property. Picking a mate on the basis of something as irrational as love would have been considered absurd. Only in the nineteenth century did marriage move to the center of people's emotional lives, when the wife became the "angel of the home" and the husband the "provider." Yet these Victorian ideals contained the seeds of today's marriage crisis. As people began to expect romance and intimacy in their marriages, their unions became more fragile. The postwar era of the 1950s ushered in a brief "Golden Age" of marriage—the Ozzie and Harriet years—but the same advances in birth control and strides toward autonomy and women's equality that made marriage more satisfying also undermined its stability. By the 1970s, a worldwide revolution in marriage was under way.

Marriage has changed more in the last thirty years than in the previous five thousand, and few of the old "rules" for marriage still apply. In the courts, the op-ed pages, and at the dinner table, battles rage over what marriage means, why people do it, and who can do it.

Marriage, a History is the one book you need to understand not only the nuances of modern marriage but also gay marriage, "living together" and divorce. Stephanie Coontz shatters dozens of myths about the past and future of married life and shows us why marriage, though more fragile today, can be more rewarding than ever before.

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