- Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar …, Thomas Cathcart & Daniel M. Klein
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Sushi Economy, Sasha Issenberg
- Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, John Gottman
- Alone Together, Paul R. Amato, Alan Booth, David R. Johnson & Stacy J. Rogers
Somewhere along the line, I guess grad school really has turned me into a researcher. At the very least, I felt like I needed to read a bunch of research-oriented books on modern American marriage before thinking about it for myself! Gottman and Amato (et. al.) take really different approaches, both methodologically and as writers. Gottman shares what he’s learned from observing successful and unsuccessful marriages in a somewhat self-helpy way, but his data is wonderfully rich. He analyzes the conversations couples have and supplements this analysis with physiological measures of stress. This lets him correlate specific behaviors with stress reactions – and then follows up with longitudinal observations to see which patterns work and don’t work for successful marriages in the long run. It would be easy to dismiss this book as facile or trite (“The Three Types of Marriages! Four Problematic Behaviors!”) but I think it’s only because he’s trying to make his insights available to everyone.
Alone Together, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. It’s a fairly dry discussion of large-scale survey data on marriages taken in 1980 and again in 2000. There are some interesting insights – for example, I found the section on perceived unfairness as a predictor of marital unhappiness quite compelling – but the book is definitely not aimed at the general public. As a researcher myself, I can appreciate the qualifications to their methodology and the close analysis of every single possible freaking interaction, but it doesn’t make the book easier to read.
The moral of both books is “Don’t be a jerk if you want to have a successful marriage!” … which is perhaps not the world’s most surprising insight. The reason to read these books is to find out how. Gottman focuses on specific social interactions to avoid, like contempt and defensiveness. Amato et. al. have some useful practical tips as well, but their biggest contribution is to expose changing cultural ideas about marriage that in turn influence what behaviors people see as maritally appropriate. The only part I find depressing is that so many people seem to need so much help not to be jerks in their marriages!
Oddly, neither Gottman or Amato has changed my day-to-day behavior much, as I try not to be a jerk all the time! Issenberg, on the other hand, has changed my relationship to fish. This comes up more often than you’d think! His book looks at the globalization of the tuna industry, from the moment it’s caught until it lands on your plate. I found his analysis of the economics of air freight totally compelling, which is not something you hear too often, and I’m thinking harder about where my fish comes from. I’ve had the Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app on my phone for a while now, but I’m using it a lot more often!