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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 17th-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.
The book does not engage in any philosophical discussion of life and death, despite the title. The author talks about breast pumps, cryogenics and birth control without venturing an opinion about them.
She seems more interested in the biographies of people who were associated with various movements than in discussing our attitudes of life and death. Rather than taking a stand on an issue the reader is left to determine the author's position by how sympathetically she paints the protagonists. The subject matter is so rich it is hard to believe that she did not dive into it with more conviction.
The performance is very good. It is read with excellent pacing and inflection and the narrator's voice is pleasant.
Despite the title this is not a reflection on life and death. I'm still not sure what it is.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
Anyone who reads the New Yorker, knows that you never go wrong with Jill Lepore. She is very entertaining, and I always come away learning something thought provoking. The narrator, however, does not know a lot about 20th century history. For example, she mispronounces W.E.B. Du Bois's name. I am sure that this has been pointed out to her. "The pronunciation of my name is Due Boyss, with the accent on the last syllable." -David Levering Lewis W.E.B. DuBois, Biography of a Race, p. 11 Also, in the same section of _The Mansion_ she refers to a law as Title "X" not title Ten. I also found her delivery to sound automated. I actually thought it was until she tried some oral interpretation, which was not bad. Great book. Performer could have been more informed and skilled.
This book was awful. The narrator spoke at a speed that was not good for my ears or brain. The book isn't about life and death or people's attitudes toward them at different time periods. It is about board games and trivia. It should have a different title and then maybe people interested in what it is about could purchase it. A waste of a credit.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
I have tried to finish this book several times. Maybe it is the narrator, but it ends up being very dull overall.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful