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The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death

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The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death Cover

ISBN13: 9780307592996
ISBN10: 0307592995
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Renowned Harvard scholar and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has composed a strikingly original, ingeniously conceived, and beautifully crafted history of American ideas about life and death from before the cradle to beyond the grave.

How does life begin? What does it mean? What happens when we die? "All anyone can do is ask," Lepore writes. "That's why any history of ideas about life and death has to be, like this book, a history of curiosity." Lepore starts that history with the story of a seventeenth-century Englishman who had the idea that all life begins with an egg and ends it with an American who, in the 1970s, began freezing the dead. In between, life got longer, the stages of life multiplied, and matters of life and death moved from the library to the laboratory, from the humanities to the sciences. Lately, debates about life and death have determined the course of American politics. Each of these debates has a history. Investigating the surprising origins of the stuff of everyday life — from board games to breast pumps — Lepore argues that the age of discovery, Darwin, and the Space Age turned ideas about life on earth topsy-turvy. "New worlds were found," she writes, and "old paradises were lost." As much a meditation on the present as an excavation of the past, The Mansion of Happiness is delightful, learned, and altogether beguiling.

Review:

"In the 19th century, a Milton Bradley version of the British board game the Mansion of Happiness (known in recent decades as Life) became an enduring staple of American homes. The game raised in a playful way three perennial questions: how does life begin? what does it mean? and what happens when you're dead? With her characteristically sharp-edged humor and luminous storytelling, Harvard historian and New Yorker writer Lepore (New York Burning) regales us with stories that follow the stages of life ('begin with the unborn and end with the undead') in an attempt to explore how cultural responses to the questions have changed over time. This journey takes us to unexpected places: for instance, the practicality, politics, and ethics of breast pumps, and cryogenics as a form of resurrection. Through these stories, Lepore shows that as fertility rates changed and as life expectancies rose, the history of life and death, long viewed as circular ('ashes to ashes, dust to dust') became more linear, incorporating even secular ideas about immortality. Lepore's inspired commentary on our shared social history offers a fresh approach to our changing views of life and death. Agent: Tina Bennett, Janklow & Nesbit." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review:

"A sharp, illuminating history of ideas....Brilliantly written and engaging throughout...superb." Kirkus, starred review

Review:

"Equip a profound scholar with H. L. Mencken's instinct for running down charlatans and chuckleheads, and you get this book. It will amuse and embarrass those of us ever befuddled by the rogues in her gallery." Garry Wills, author of Lincoln at Gettysburg

Review:

"Written with sardonic wit and penetrating intelligence, The Mansion of Happiness is a fascinating and startlingly original guide to the ways in which the human life-cycle has been imagined, manipulated, managed, marketed, and debased in modern times. Lepore weaves her way brilliantly along the mazy track that leads from the egg in which life's game begins to the giant freezers in which certain crack-brained visionaries hope to defeat death itself. A fast-paced, hilarious, angry, poignant, and richly illuminating book." Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How The World Became Modern

Review:

"This is why Jill Lepore is becoming my favorite historian: wise, witty, wide in scope and deep in spirit." James Gleick, author of The Information

Review:

"A series of engaging and wonderfully perceptive essays on how individuals caught in time made sense of life and death. Jill Lepore is one of America's most accomplished and imaginative historians." Linda Colley, author of The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh

Review:

"With wit and erudition, Lepore demonstrates that nothing is more mutable and time-bound than our most cherished notions about the supposedly eternal verities of life and death." Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason

Review:

"Each sentence brims, each paragraph delights. Taken together these essays are more than the sum of their parts. They are an inquiry into how we think about being alive." Smithsonian

Review:

"A stunning meditation on three questions that have dominated serious reflection about human nature and cultures for centuries: How does life begin? What does it mean? What happens when we die?...Lepore's refreshing and often humorous insights breathe fresh air into these everlasting matters." Bookpage

Review:

"A breezy, informative, wide-ranging book...singular, always stimulating." The American Scholar

Review:

"Lepore's prose is thoroughly engaging and witty...covers enough of mankind's earnest curiosity about life and death to both entertain and provoke thought." Booklist

Review:

"Lepore chooses quirky, though always revealing, lenses through which is examine the changing definitions of conception, infancy, childhood, puberty, marriage, middle age, parenthood, old age, death, and immortality....Through sheer force of charisma, Lepore keeps her readers on track: this book, with all its detours and winding turns, is a journey worth taking." Library Journal

Review:

"Engaging...Lepore writes about our striving to understand our existence. The Mansion of Happiness is an important addition to the effort." San Francisco Chronicle

Review:

"Lepore has a brilliant way of selecting just the right historical detail to illuminate a larger point....The most valuable lesson here is that of impermanence. Everything changes. And although, as Lepore writes, 'it's best to have a plan,' as her multifaceted, sometimes dizzying joyride of a book reveals, the next roll of dice could, in fact, change everything." Boston Sunday Globe

Review:

"This fascinating book explores a few centuries' worth of ideas about life and death — you know, just a light beach read. But for all its analysis of Darwin and Aristotle, The Mansion of Happiness is a lot of fun...[Lepore] is always engaging, even surprising." Entertainment Weekly

Review:

"A great ride...Lepore writes with a clear feminist perspective, and it's a relief to read someone, for example, who personally knows her way around breast pumps and reproductive rights, and can write about them with humor and affection." Bust

About the Author

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Table of Contents

1. Hatched                                                          

2. Baby Food                                                     

3. The Children’s Room                                     

4. All about Erections                                       

5. Mr. Marriage                                                 

6. Happiness Minutes                                         

7. Confessions of an Amateur Mother               

8. Happy Old Age                                             

9. The Gate of Heaven                                       

10. Resurrection                                                   

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Roger Albert, June 28, 2012 (view all comments by Roger Albert)
I haven't read the book, only the summary and some of the reviews, which are quite glowing. The subject of life and death has been my scholarly preoccupation for decades so this title and from what I can see about the content a more practical, behavioural approach than I take. My approach comes from cultural anthropology and psychoanalysts like Otto Rank. I have a blog in which I occasionally address issues of life and death and the significance of our denial of death on our cultural institutions. My starting point when I lecture on this topic is that life and death are one and the same process. Or more precisely, living and dying are one and the same thing. See my blog for more fun and games on this topic: http://rogerjgalbert.com.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780307592996
Subtitle:
A History of Life and Death (Vintage)
Author:
Lepore, Jill
Publisher:
Knopf
Subject:
United States - General
Subject:
Sociology - General
Publication Date:
20120605
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
9.5 x 6.5 x 1.4 in 1.42 lb

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Related Subjects

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History and Social Science » American Studies » General
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History and Social Science » Sociology » General
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The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$18.50 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Knopf - English 9780307592996 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In the 19th century, a Milton Bradley version of the British board game the Mansion of Happiness (known in recent decades as Life) became an enduring staple of American homes. The game raised in a playful way three perennial questions: how does life begin? what does it mean? and what happens when you're dead? With her characteristically sharp-edged humor and luminous storytelling, Harvard historian and New Yorker writer Lepore (New York Burning) regales us with stories that follow the stages of life ('begin with the unborn and end with the undead') in an attempt to explore how cultural responses to the questions have changed over time. This journey takes us to unexpected places: for instance, the practicality, politics, and ethics of breast pumps, and cryogenics as a form of resurrection. Through these stories, Lepore shows that as fertility rates changed and as life expectancies rose, the history of life and death, long viewed as circular ('ashes to ashes, dust to dust') became more linear, incorporating even secular ideas about immortality. Lepore's inspired commentary on our shared social history offers a fresh approach to our changing views of life and death. Agent: Tina Bennett, Janklow & Nesbit." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "A sharp, illuminating history of ideas....Brilliantly written and engaging throughout...superb."
"Review" by , "Equip a profound scholar with H. L. Mencken's instinct for running down charlatans and chuckleheads, and you get this book. It will amuse and embarrass those of us ever befuddled by the rogues in her gallery."
"Review" by , "Written with sardonic wit and penetrating intelligence, The Mansion of Happiness is a fascinating and startlingly original guide to the ways in which the human life-cycle has been imagined, manipulated, managed, marketed, and debased in modern times. Lepore weaves her way brilliantly along the mazy track that leads from the egg in which life's game begins to the giant freezers in which certain crack-brained visionaries hope to defeat death itself. A fast-paced, hilarious, angry, poignant, and richly illuminating book."
"Review" by , "This is why Jill Lepore is becoming my favorite historian: wise, witty, wide in scope and deep in spirit."
"Review" by , "A series of engaging and wonderfully perceptive essays on how individuals caught in time made sense of life and death. Jill Lepore is one of America's most accomplished and imaginative historians."
"Review" by , "With wit and erudition, Lepore demonstrates that nothing is more mutable and time-bound than our most cherished notions about the supposedly eternal verities of life and death."
"Review" by , "Each sentence brims, each paragraph delights. Taken together these essays are more than the sum of their parts. They are an inquiry into how we think about being alive."
"Review" by , "A stunning meditation on three questions that have dominated serious reflection about human nature and cultures for centuries: How does life begin? What does it mean? What happens when we die?...Lepore's refreshing and often humorous insights breathe fresh air into these everlasting matters."
"Review" by , "A breezy, informative, wide-ranging book...singular, always stimulating."
"Review" by , "Lepore's prose is thoroughly engaging and witty...covers enough of mankind's earnest curiosity about life and death to both entertain and provoke thought."
"Review" by , "Lepore chooses quirky, though always revealing, lenses through which is examine the changing definitions of conception, infancy, childhood, puberty, marriage, middle age, parenthood, old age, death, and immortality....Through sheer force of charisma, Lepore keeps her readers on track: this book, with all its detours and winding turns, is a journey worth taking."
"Review" by , "Engaging...Lepore writes about our striving to understand our existence. The Mansion of Happiness is an important addition to the effort."
"Review" by , "Lepore has a brilliant way of selecting just the right historical detail to illuminate a larger point....The most valuable lesson here is that of impermanence. Everything changes. And although, as Lepore writes, 'it's best to have a plan,' as her multifaceted, sometimes dizzying joyride of a book reveals, the next roll of dice could, in fact, change everything."
"Review" by , "This fascinating book explores a few centuries' worth of ideas about life and death — you know, just a light beach read. But for all its analysis of Darwin and Aristotle, The Mansion of Happiness is a lot of fun...[Lepore] is always engaging, even surprising."
"Review" by , "A great ride...Lepore writes with a clear feminist perspective, and it's a relief to read someone, for example, who personally knows her way around breast pumps and reproductive rights, and can write about them with humor and affection."
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