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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Science and matrimony meet in a new book by Tara Parker-Pope. It's called "For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage." The author offers practical marital advice based on her own observations as well as interviews with biologists, psychologists and sociologists.

Reviewer Susan Jane Gilman says the intentions are good, but "For Better" isn't nearly as good as it could have been.

Ms. SUSAN JANE GILMAN (Author): Are you married? If so, how did you meet? According to Tara Parker-Pope, the way you recount this story reveals a lot about the state of your union. If you recall your first date affectionately, chances are your marriage is strong. But if your tale is tinged with bitterness, you're probably in trouble.

This isn't Parker-Pope's opinion. It's based on a scientific study.

Her new book, "For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage," is a compendium of such research. Good marriages, she argues, are good for us, and science can help us achieve them. Drawing upon fields from neuroscience to sociology, her book offers prescriptions for marital health - practical strategies to help couples improve their relationship.

Parker-Pope paints a statistical portrait of marriage today. Some of her findings are surprising: Divorce rates in America are actually dropping; married people have more sex than anyone; and the more financially independent women are, the more likely they are to stay married.

When it comes to problems, debt and children are obvious culprits, but so is rolling your eyes at your spouse. So is using the pronoun "you" instead of "we."

"For Better" is half myth-buster, half self-help. It's a cleanly written, serviceable book that can be useful for couples, or even singles contemplating the plunge.

Yet for me, it left something to be desired. To be fair, I approached "For Better" with the same lofty expectations many of us bring to marriage itself. I love the idea that there's a science to marriage, and so I yearned to be swept away by this book, intellectually turned on. As with a great romance, I wanted fireworks.

Instead, I got the publishing equivalent of a nice robe and slippers. Well-crafted, comforting, helpful - yes. "For Better" is a good gift for the lovelorn. But while there's illuminating research in it - especially comparing gay and straight marriages - there's also plenty of stuff, frankly, I've heard before. Its relationship quizzes could have come straight from a magazine.

"For Better," in short, could be better. Its full potential isn't realized. Marriage has undergone radical changes in America. In the 19th century, women legally became non-people the moment they tied the knot. Once married, they were prohibited from keeping their own money and property, signing contracts or filing lawsuits. Their husbands had the right to abuse them.

In fact, spousal rape wasn't outlawed in all 50 states until 1993. Yet Parker-Pope only notes that marriage used to be an economic and social contract not based on love. She focuses on the science of marriage but ignores its evolution, and her book is flimsier for it.

In the end, I wanted "For Better" to go beyond factoids and marital aids to become a deeper, more provocative read. Maybe I'm asking too much or seeking a different book entirely. But "For Better" urges couples to insist on high standards and for better or worse, I've followed its advice.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: The book is "For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage," by Tara Parker-Pope. Reviewer Susan Jane Gilman wrote the memoir "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven."

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