A compulsively readable, startling, and philosophically rich book about marriage, from an acclaimed critic and filmmaker
A New Yorker Best of the Week Pick • A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year • A Seminary Coop Notable Book of 2023
“Baum is an erudite and entertaining guide through the landscape of marriage. . . . A fascinating exploration.”—Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian
“As far back as our history books go, we have no record of a time preceding marriage. Isn’t that an extraordinary fact?” So writes Devorah Baum in this searching and revelatory book. Marriage, for better or for worse, is how humans have organized their world and told their story. Straight, queer, coupled, single: none live outside the remit of marriage. One might as well try to live beyond language.
But when confronted with the question “What do intellectuals think of marriage?” Baum concludes that most philosophers have preferred to avoid the subject. Is marriage then an intellectual blind spot? To fill in the gaps, she draws on a wide range of cultural material, from the classical to the contemporary, while interweaving reflections on her own experiences of matrimony to both critique and celebrate marriage’s many contradictions and its profound effects on us all. In doing so, she reveals how marriage has worked as a cover story for power and its abuses on the one hand, and for subversive and even utopian relational practices on the other.
Entertaining, illuminating, consoling, and candid, On Marriage is an unprecedented investigation of what we are really talking about when we talk about marriage.
About the Author
Devorah Baum is a writer, a film director, and an associate professor in English literature at the University of Southampton. She is the author of Feeling Jewish (a Book for Just About Anyone) and The Jewish Joke: An Essay with Examples (Less Essay, More Examples). With Josh Appignanesi, her spouse, she is both codirector and performer in the documentaries The New Man and Husband. She lives in London, UK.
“On the subject of conversation and its role in marriage Baum is . . . at her most resonant. . . . This is smart and right. . . . There is more in marriage than may be dreamt of in our philosophies.”—Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal
“How is marriage unlike everything else? And why is it sometimes so very awful? These are questions raised by . . . Devorah Baum in her nimble new work. . . . On Marriage is characterized by an affinity for wordplay and by . . . agile curiosity.”—Rebecca Mead, New Yorker
“Baum is an erudite and entertaining guide through the landscape of marriage, bringing a lively intellectual rigour to changing attitudes on matters of religion, feminism, parenting and sexuality. . . . A fascinating exploration.”—Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian
“Baum is not interested in the rights or wrongs of marriage, only its varied manifestations and meanings. . . . [This] makes her work compelling, as does her willingness to self-interrogate.”—Sophie Elmhirst, Times (UK)
“Baum is a master at unpicking clichés. She pushes at the boundaries of marriage as a framework for conceiving of ourselves in relation to others, and she is especially interested in marriages that adapt the institution’s conventional trappings for subversive and playful ends.”—New Yorker, “Best Books We Read This Week”
“A rollicking account about marriage in books, movies, and culture, told with authority and genuine warmth.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A Seminary Coop Notable Book of 2023
Selected by Kirkus Reviews for its list of “Best Nonfiction Books of the Year,” 2023
“Devorah Baum is a visionary writer. Her intellectual depth, her emotional precision and her searing insight can only be gathered under an old fashioned word: wisdom. If more ‘self-help’ was written by people as smart and emotionally intuitive as Devorah, then more people would actually feel ‘helped.’”—Zadie Smith
“Everything you thought you knew about conjugal beds, secrets, feuds, confessions, triangulations and solaces will be pleasurably complicated by Devorah Baum’s wryly insightful tell-all regarding the infinite perversity of marriage—including her own, mine, and probably yours.”—Laura Kipnis, author of Love in the Time of Contagion: A Diagnosis
“Because marriage doesn’t always bring out the best in us, it makes us wonder what the best in us might be. It is part of the extraordinary wit and wisdom of Baum’s remarkable book to show us what kind of romance, and experiment in living, we have wanted marriage to be. This is the brilliant book that we could never have expected about marriage, and its alternatives.”—Adam Phillips
“Philosophically and emotionally smart. Devorah Baum brings her literary understandings, psychoanalytic scholarship and great aplomb to the marriage conundrum. It’s very funny too. Who wouldn’t want to marry Devorah?”—Susie Orbach
“Rarely has the subject of marriage been attended to with such intelligence, breadth of reading and insight, but also with such scrutiny and hope. Baum is hopeful about marriage, but also honest and anxious about it. She is committed to its contradictions and complexities. There is doubt and humility, as well as a quiet ardour to her analysis.”—Hisham Matar
“On Marriage is a hugely thought-provoking, witty, warm tour around every significant writer and thinker on love to have emerged since Adam and Eve. Baum is a charming guide to the wisdom of her inspiring judiciously curated cohort.”—Alain de Botton
“This delightful, acrobatic book is funny, thought-provoking and rigorous at the same time. An effervescent and timely meditation on marriage.”—Darian Leader