Reviews for Mansion of Happiness : A History of Life and Death

Booklist Reviews 2012 June #1
*Starred Review* The word history in the title of Lepore's essay collection ought not to be daunting, nor should the extensive endnotes, since Lepore's prose is thoroughly engaging and witty. And humor is essential for considering such weighty and politically charged matters as the beginning of life and the modern concept of dying with dignity. As Lepore points out, as times and fashions change, so, too, do notions about whether life is a circle or a straight line, whether these concepts are philosophical or scientific. Are they matters for personal deliberation, or should they be topics of public policy debate? Are these religious concerns? Judicial? Opinions throughout history have and still do run the gamut. The ancients, she notes, believed life began with the seed or semen. Until very recently, it was standard procedure for that dreaded visitor, Death, to call on people only in the privacy of their own homes. Lepore also addresses technologies, from breast pumps to cryogenics, and life's stages, including "tweenhood," which "is just plain made up," and senior citizens, "an interest group." Though not comprehensive, Lepore's book does cover enough of mankind's earnest curiosity about life and death to both entertain and provoke thought. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2012 November
Lepore (history and literature, Harvard; New Yorker staff writer) has written extensively for both academic and broader audiences. The Mansion of Happiness is written for both. It is an insightful, playful, funny, wrenching, and pointed selection of ten essays on the history of ideas of life from conception to the afterlife. Using the game of Life, Lepore adeptly weaves together the essays, which began as New Yorker articles, and the lives and works of writers, editors, scientists, and entrepreneurs as threads. Though broadly Western in scope, the essays' primary focus is the modern US. The author engagingly connects current controversies regarding sex, conception, contraception, childhood, adolescence, marriage, parenting, end-of-life care, and death to their historical roots in the Enlightenment, Progressive Era, and the 1960s and 1970s. Together, the essays reveal the transformative influence of modern biology, medical science, industrialization, urbanization, and the increasing integration of US society on perceptions of living and dying. Well researched, well written, informative, provocative, and entertaining. Especially useful for collections on the history of ideas, science, medicine, culture, and gender. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Most levels/libraries. General Readers; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty. C. R. Versen Bridgewater College Copyright 2012 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 May #1
A sharp, illuminating history of ideas showing how America has wrestled with birth, childhood, work, marriage, old age and death. Brilliantly written and engaging throughout, the latest from New Yorker staff writer Lepore (American History/Harvard Univ.; The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History, 2011, etc.) is about how American society reacts to change. The author starts with the perfect metaphor: In 1860, a young entrepreneur named Milton Bradley created a popular board game called Life. The game had long existed in earlier versions, but Bradley gave it a capitalist spin, changing it from a game of good versus evil to one that "rewards only those virtues that lead to Wealth and Success, like Industry and Perseverance." From there, Lepore tackles conception and how the famous pictures of a fetus in Life in the mid '60s fostered the relatively modern idea of "being unborn as a stage of human life, a stage that was never on any board game." The author shows how E.B. White's surprisingly controversial novel Stuart Little created a small revolution in a country that has always worshipped childhood; she sees it as "an indictment of both the childishness of children's literature and the juvenilization of American culture." Lepore's topics are broad, and they lead her into many interesting byways--e.g., how eugenics was once considered a perfectly progressive idea and how contraception once seemed to threaten society in ways even Rick Santorum has not imagined. She also considers the legacy of Karen Ann Quinlan, the brain-dead young woman whose case helped foment arguments for both the right to die and the right to life, and discusses her visit to the creepy laboratory of cryogenics founder Robert C.W. Ettinger. A superb examination of the never-ending effort to enhance life, as well as the commensurate refusal to ever let it go. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 May #2

New Yorker staff writer and historian Lepore (American history, Harvard Univ.; The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History) presents a patchwork history of how modern Western--and in particular, American--culture has conceived of the passage of life from birth to death. Many of the chapters originally appeared in The New Yorker, and as a result the book's focus is at times disjointed. (What is a discussion of Stuart Little, for instance, doing between chapters on breast feeding and sex education?) Still, a pattern begins to emerge as Lepore chooses quirky, though always revealing, lenses through which to examine the changing definitions of conception, infancy, childhood, puberty, marriage, middle age, parenthood, old age, death, and immortality. Readers learn more than they may have bargained for about board games, the Time magazine--New Yorker rivalry, scientific management, and psychologist G. Stanley Hall. VERDICT 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. Though footnotes are ample and lively, it is not designed for research; recommended for readers looking to peruse. [See Prepub Alert, 2/27/12.]--Molly McArdle, Library Journal

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Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
Okay, grand subtitle, but Lepore-Harvard historian, New Yorker staff writer, and author (e.g., New York Burning)-has something focused in mind and will likely pull it off. Here she explores how ideas about life and death have shaped American history and politics. For your thoughtful readers. - "Mantel to Zafón " LJ Reviews 3/1/2012 (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 March #4

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. (July)

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