he symmetrical, exuberant heart is everywhere: it gives shape to candy, pendants, the frothy milk on top of a cappuccino, and much else. How can we explain the ubiquity of what might be the most recognizable symbol in the world?

In The Amorous Heart, Marilyn Yalom tracks the heart metaphor and heart iconography across two thousand years, through Christian theology, pagan love poetry, medieval painting, Shakespearean drama, Enlightenment science, and into the present. She argues that the symbol reveals a tension between love as romantic and sexual on the one hand, and as religious and spiritual on the other. Ultimately, the heart symbol is a guide to the astonishing variety of human affections, from the erotic to the chaste and from the unrequited to the conjugal.


“Another tour de force by one of America’s leading cultural historians. Marilyn Yalom’s account of the heart’s symbolization as the seat of passion takes us from antiquity to the Middle Ages to Valentine kitsch of our own age. An exquisite book full of historical surprises and revelations.”

—Robert Pogue Harrison
Rosina Pierotti Professor of French and Italian
Stanford University

“For anyone whose heart has ever palpitated in love or devotion, this is a thumping romp through the history of hearts – in love, literature, illuminated manuscripts and Valentine cards.”

—Christopher de Hamel
author of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

“Lovers have histories; so do hearts. Sprouting in vines, burned in fires, frozen in icy jewels—the hearts in Marilyn Yalom’s new book seem in sympathy with Yalom herself: they will tell their secrets—not to just anyone, but to her, such a warm writer, yes, they will confide.”

—Alexander Nemerov
author of Soulmaker: The Times of Lewis Hine


Marilyn Yalom is a former professor of French and presently a senior scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She is the author of widely-acclaimed books, such as A History of the Breast, A History of the Wife, Birth of the Chess Queen, How the French Invented Love, and, most recently, The Social Sex. She lives in Palo Alto, California with her husband, psychiatrist author Irvin D. Yalom.