The Mansion of Happiness by Jill Lepore

90%

19 Critic Reviews

...this history of ideas about life and death underscores the eternal verities: We know everything. We know nothing. We learn. We forget. In this game of life, we go on to roll the dice once more.
-NY Times

Synopsis

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.
 

About Jill Lepore

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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.
 
Published June 5, 2012 by Vintage. 322 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Mansion of Happiness
All: 19 | Positive: 18 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Excellent
Reviewed by Kirkus Reviews on May 01 2012

A superb examination of the never-ending effort to enhance life, as well as the commensurate refusal to ever let it go.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Dani Shapiro on Aug 10 2012

...this history of ideas about life and death underscores the eternal verities: We know everything. We know nothing. We learn. We forget. In this game of life, we go on to roll the dice once more.

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Entertainment Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Melissa Maerz on Jun 06 2012

Named after the Victorian-era board game that inspired Milton Bradley's LIFE, this fascinating book explores a few centuries' worth of ideas about life and death...

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The Washington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Rachel Newcomb on Jul 07 2012

...she manages to spin a larger narrative that both fascinates and informs, showing that our taken-for-granted ideas about every stage of life are culturally specific, very much a product of our times.

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The Boston Globe

Excellent
Reviewed by Buzzy Jackson on Jun 03 2012

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 the dice could, in fact, change everything.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Excellent
Reviewed by Danielle Ofri on Jun 03 2012

...she develops each chapter with an essayistic contour, diving in at an unexpected angle and then weaving a narrative that may perambulate historically, geographically and contextually.

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City Book Review

Excellent
Reviewed by editor on Oct 11 2012

This book is an entertaining read with some mind blowing stories, a great book for anyone interested in understanding America’s past.

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The Daily Beast

Excellent
Reviewed by Malcolm Jones on Jun 21 2012

...to be entertained, educated, and given several helpful new ways to think about the stages of life and what lies beyond—and anyone familiar with Lepore’s work knows what a sure bet that is—you’re in for a good time.

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Salon

Excellent
Reviewed by Laura Miller on Jun 24 2012

One of the pleasures of Lepore’s work is the way she uses a single, deftly chosen artifact to crack open a much wider cultural vista.

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The Millions

Excellent
Reviewed by AUSTEN ROSENFELD on Jun 21 2012

...well-researched and emotionally intelligent new book The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, discusses how people relate to life and death, and how those relations have morphed throughout history.

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Los Angeles Review of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Ian Scheffler on Sep 03 2012

She scrupulously connects the ideas she discusses to their time and place, and often notes that unheralded thoughts received powerful help from unlooked-for sources.

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The Courier-Journal

Excellent
Reviewed by Linda Elisabeth Beattie on Oct 12 2012

The beauty of Lepore’s book is the simple elegance and wit with which she conveys her conclusions.

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Smithsonian

Excellent
Reviewed by Chloë Schama on Jun 01 2012

This is a slow read, but in the best way; each sentence brims, each paragraph delights.

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The American Scholar

Excellent
Reviewed by Sissela Bok

...draws on essays first published in that magazine for a breezy, informative, wide-ranging book.

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The Point

Below average
Reviewed by Scott Spillman

it is too simple, too narrow, too mechanistic, too sure of its own sufficiency

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Yahoo! Voices

Good
Reviewed by Lucy Tonic on Jun 26 2012

Lepore talks strictly in scientific and social terms, which makes the title of this novel seem misleading- there is no Mansion of Happiness in life, only short-cuts laced with conformity.

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Sophisticated Dorkiness

Good
Reviewed by Kim on Jul 13 2012

...was well written and full of great details, it just wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I picked it up.

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ricklibrarian

Good
Reviewed by Rick on Aug 29 2012

...it is an entertaining and enlightening work from a historian with a growing shelf of titles, including one novel.

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PhiloBiblos

Good
Reviewed by JBD on Aug 22 2012

It's fascinating to see how she makes connections and draws comparisons across time, space, and subject matter - it's rather fun to see where she's going to take you next.

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Reader Rating for The Mansion of Happiness
69%

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