The science of love

Understanding the brain and heart are key to Valentine’s Day romance

What is love after all? For Valentine’s Day this year, we examine love from multiple angles. How does the brain process feeling? What is emotion, anyway? And what do we know of the anatomical heart? Dive in with us for a most scientific exploration of romance, and sign up for our newsletter to hear more about our books.

Cover of The Exquisite Machine, featuring a brightly-colored drawing of an anatomical heart, in red, yellow, and blue. The red section appears to show electrical pathways; the blue section gears; and the yellow section like a close-up microscope image.

The Exquisite Machine: The New Science of the Heart by Sian E. Harding

Your heart is a miracle in motion, a marvel of construction unsurpassed by any human-made creation. It beats 100,000 times every day—if you were to live to 100, that would be more than 3 billion beats across your lifespan. Despite decades of effort in labs all over the world, we have not yet been able to replicate the heart’s perfect engineering. But, as Sian Harding shows us in The Exquisite Machine, new scientific developments are opening up the mysteries of the heart—including peculiar afflictions like broken heart syndrome. And this explosion of new science—ultrafast imaging, gene editing, stem cells, artificial intelligence, and advanced sub-light microscopy—has crucial, real-world consequences for health and well-being.

“A remarkable read from a world renowned researcher.” —Stephen Westaby, author of Fragile Lives and The Knife’s Edge

Read author Sian Harding’s piece in New Scientist about broken heart syndrome: How understanding a form of broken heart syndrome could save lives

Cover of The Heart of the Brain, featuring a black and white drawing of a brain with the small hypothalamus region at the base of the spine highlighted in red.

The Heart of the Brain: The Hypothalamus and Its Hormones by Gareth Leng

As human beings, we prefer to think of ourselves as reasonable. But how much of what we do is really governed by reason? In this book, Gareth Leng considers the extent to which one small structure of the neuroendocrine brain—the hypothalamus—influences what we do, how we love, and who we are. By asking how the hypothalamic neurons and their receptors are regulated, he explores how the hypothalamus links our passions with our reason. The Heart of the Brain shows in an accessible way how this very small structure is very much at the heart of what makes us human.

“[Leng] makes neuroscience accessible, as his writing blends charm and expertise.” —Donald Pfaff, The Rockefeller University; author of How the Vertebrate Brain Regulates Behavior

Cover of The Rationality of Emotion, featuring a black and white drawing of several people in turn-of-the-century clothes. The leftmost figure, a man, sits on a stool and looks forlornly into his hands. The middle figure, a man in a car jacket, stands crouched with his hands in front of him in fear. The righthand figure, a woman, crouches with her hands together in a pleading motion while looking toward the man in the middle.

The Rationality of Emotion by Ronald de Sousa

In this urbane and witty book, Ronald de Sousa disputes the widespread notion that reason and emotion are natural antagonists. He argues that emotions are a kind of perception, that their roots in the paradigm scenarios in which they are learned give them an essentially dramatic structure, and that they have a crucial role to-play in rational beliefs, desires, and decisions by breaking the deadlocks of pure reason.

Cover of The Entangled Brain, featuring an outline of a brain from the side. The outline is filled with interwoven ropes of bright rainbow colors.

The Entangled Brain: How Perception, Cognition, and Emotion Are Woven Together by Luiz Pessoa

Popular neuroscience accounts often focus on specific mind-brain aspects like addiction, cognition, or memory, but The Entangled Brain tackles a much bigger question: What kind of object is the brain? Neuroscientist Luiz Pessoa describes the brain as a highly networked, interconnected system that cannot be neatly decomposed into a set of independent parts. One can’t point to the brain and say, “This is where emotion happens” (or any other mental faculty). Pessoa argues that only by understanding how large-scale neural circuits combine multiple and diverse signals can we truly appreciate how the brain supports the mind.

“For anyone who wants to learn about the brain and its relationship to the mind, this book is essential reading.” —Evan Thompson, author of Mind in Life and Waking, Dreaming, Being

Cover of The Body Fantastic, featuring a variety of drawings including: a butterfly, a mermaid, a red flower. a red-topped mushroom, a frog, an anatomical diagram of the lower half of a human body seen from behind; and more.

The Body Fantastic by Frank Gonzalez-Crussi

In The Body Fantastic, Frank Gonzalez-Crussi looks at the human body through the lens of dreams, myths, legends, and anecdotes of the bizarre, exploring the close connection of the fictitious and the fabulous to our conception of the body. He chronicles, among other curious cases, the man who ate everything (including boiled hedgehogs and mice on toast), the therapeutic powers of saliva, hair that burst into flames, and an “amphibian man” who lived under water. Drawing on clinical records, popular lore, and art, history, and literature, Gonzalez-Crussi considers the body in both real and imaginary dimensions.

“Playful, erudite, expansive, the book gives one much to chew on, widening our understanding of our corporeal selves, as well as how that understanding has shifted and evolved over time.” —Boston Globe

Cover of Happiness, featuring a small circular drawing of a bright sunny sky with puffy clouds.

Happiness by Tim Lomas

What does it mean to feel happiness? As a state of mind, it’s elusive. As a concept—despite the plethora of pop psychology books on the subject—it’s poorly understood. In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, psychologist Tim Lomas offers a concise and engaging overview of our current understanding of happiness. Lomas explains that although the field of positive psychology, which focuses on happiness, emerged only in the last twenty-five years, interest in the meaning of happiness goes back several millennia. Drawing on a variety of disciplines, from philosophy and sociology to economics and anthropology, Lomas offers an expansive vision of what happiness means, exploring a significant range of experiential territory.

Cover of Philosophy of Love, featuring a whimsical drawing of a tree with curled branches in a brown tone.

Philosophy of Love: A Partial Summing Up by Irving Singer

In Philosophy of Love, philosopher Irving Singer maps the trajectory of his thinking on love. It is a “partial” summing-up of a lifework: partial because it expresses the author’s still unfolding views, because it is a recapitulation of many published pages, because love—like any subject of that magnitude—resists a neatly comprehensive, all-inclusive formulation. Adopting an informal, even conversational, tone, Singer discusses, among other topics, the history of romantic love, the Platonic ideal, courtly and nineteenth-century Romantic love; the nature of passion; ideas about love in Freud, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dewey, Santayana, Sartre, and other writers; and love in relation to democracy, existentialism, creativity, and the possible future of scientific investigation. Singer’s writing on love embodies what he has learned as a contemporary philosopher, studying other authors in the field and “trying to get a little further.” This book continues his trailblazing explorations.

“Nearly everyone can learn something from this book.” —Library Journal

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