February 12, 2001 12:00 PM

by Marilyn Yalom

“In domestic affairs, I defer to Katie,” 16th-century Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther said of his delightfully domineering wife. “Otherwise, I am led by the Holy Ghost.” Modern women may think they’re the first to grapple with the complexities of marriage. Hardly, as we are reminded by Stanford University historian Yalom in this scholarly yet delectably readable volume. We find, for instance, Cleopatra dallying with the very married Antony and the medieval heroine Héloïse declaring her preference for “love to marriage, liberty to bondage,” while yearning for her hapless lover, Abelard. Then there’s Puritan wife Anne Bradstreet, who defied stereotypes by writing impassioned poetry to her husband. Roles may have changed, but one thing has not: “Whosoever findeth a wife,” Yalom writes, quoting a biblical proverb, “findeth a good thing.” (HarperCollins, $30)

Bottom Line: Once-in-a-wifetime compendium

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