Synopses & Reviews
Darrin M. McMahon's sweeping new book, chronicling the evolution of happiness over two thousand years of Western culture and thought, argues that our modern belief in happiness that happiness is a natural right is a relatively recent development. It is a product of a dramatic revolution in human expectations carried out since the eighteenth century. Central to the development of Christianity, ideas of happiness assumed their modern form during the Enlightenment, when men and women were first introduced to the novel prospect that they could in fact should be happy in this life as opposed to the hereafter. Ultimately, the Enlightenment's recognition of happiness as a motivating ideal led to its consecration in the Declaration of Independence and France's Declaration of the Rights of Man. McMahon follows this great pursuit through to the present day, showing how our modern search for happiness continues to generate new forms of pleasure, but also, paradoxically, new forms of pain. In the tradition of works by Peter Gay and Simon Schama, Happiness draws on numerous sources, including art and architecture, poetry and scripture, music and theology, literature and myth to offer a sweeping intellectual history of man's most elusive yet coveted goal.
Before the contemporary onslaught of therapeutic treatments and self-help guidance, the very idea of happiness in this life was virtually unknown. In this eminently readable work, McMahon (Enemies of Enlightenment) looks back through 2,000 years of thought, searching for evidence of how our contemporary obsession came to be. From the tragic plays of ancient Greece to the inflammatory rhetoric of Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, McMahon delves deeply into the rich trove of texts that elucidate and confirm the development of Western notions of this elusive ideal. In one particularly rousing section, he highlights the breakthrough thinking of German theologian and religious revolutionary Martin Luther. Locked in self-imposed exile in the Augustine Black Monastery in Wittenberg, Luther struggled with a God who punished sinners, then realized that man is "justified made just, not punished with justice..." and that this life was one to be lived, that man must "drink more, engage in sports and recreation, aye, even sin a little" in order to be happy. Throughout McMahon leads the reader with strong, clear thinking, laying out his ideas with grace, both challenging and entertaining us in equal measure. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"This is a rich, fascinating intellectual history of an ineffable idea that, McMahon notes, is as old as history itself." June Sawyers, Booklist
"[L]ively, lucid and enjoyable... The book's strengths far outweigh its flaws. Although McMahon neither promises nor delivers the secret of happiness, his book can bring readers the satisfaction of intellectual adventure." Felicia Nimue Ackerman, Washington Post Book World
Drawing on numerous sources, including art and architecture, poetry and scripture, music and theology, literature and myth, McMahon offers a sweeping intellectual history of man's most elusive yet coveted goal--happiness.