Excerpt from The Mansion of Happiness by Jill Lepore, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Mansion of Happiness

A History of Life and Death

By Jill Lepore

The Mansion of Happiness
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2012,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2013,
    320 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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Milton Bradley took a different view. In the Checkered Game of Life, you can win and you can lose and you can even be ruined, but there's no square called Death. Unless you land on Suicide, you can't actually die. Also, you have some control over your fate. "The journey of life is governed by a combination of chance and judgment," he explained. There's what you roll, and there's where you choose to go. The Checkered Game of Life is a game of destiny checked by strategy. This really was new, because Milton Bradley came from a family ruled for generations by nothing so much as an angry God.

The Bradleys arrived in New England in 1635, when Daniel Bradley, an apothecary's son, settled in Salem, in Massachusetts Bay, just five years after the Puritans founded their city on a hill. Their sufferings were biblical. Daniel Bradley was killed by Indians in 1689; six years later, his fifteen-year-old son, Isaac, was taken captive. In 1697, another son, his wife, and two of their children died in an attack on the town of Haverhill, during which Hannah Bradley, the wife of still another of Daniel's sons, was captured, whereupon her husband, Joseph, trudged after her, through waist-high snows, with his dog and a purse of coin. He meant to ransom her.

To be rescued from captivity was to be redeemed. It took Joseph Bradley two years, but he finally redeemed his wife and brought her home. Then, in the winter of 1704, Indians returned to Haverhill and broke into the Bradleys' house all over again. This time, Hannah, who was eight months pregnant, fought back. "Perceiving the Misery that was attending her, and having boiling Soap on the Fire," she "scalded one of them to Death," as the minister of Boston's North Church, Cotton Mather, described it in an account of her trials and tribulations. She hid her sister and one of her children in the back of the house; eventually, she surrendered. She was then forced to walk, for weeks, over hundreds of miles, northward; she lived on nuts, bark, and wild onions. Once, she was allowed a piece of moose hide. She prayed "that the Lord would put an end unto her weary Life!" Six weeks into her captivity, she gave birth, "with none but the Snow under her, and the Heaven over her." When the baby cried, the Indians "threw hot Embers in its Mouth," which rendered its "Mouth so sore, that it could not Suck ... So that it Starv'd and Dy'd." She endured by faith alone. "She had her Mind often Irradiated with Strong Perswasions and Assurances, that she should yet See the Goodness of God, in this Land of the Living." At last, "her tender and Loving Husband ... found her out, and fetch'd her home, a Second time." And what, upon her redemption, did she pray? "O magnifie the LORD with me, and let us Exalt his Name together." The next time an Indian came to her door, she shot him. She lived to be ninety.

In 1707, when Mather wrote about Bradley's captivity and redemption, he used her story as an allegory for the Puritans' errand into the wilderness, quoting Virgil: "Ab una Disce omnes." From one, learn all. That same year, he delivered a sermon called "The Spirit of Life Entering into the Spiritually Dead," preaching from the gospel of Luke: "He was Dead, and is Alive again." Resurrection is redemption from the captivity of death, but Mather spoke, too, about another kind: redemption from the captivity of sin. Sinners are dead souls, dry bones, but they can be quickened, made alive. There wasn't much you could do to be saved; the Lord would decide, on the Day of Judgment. You can hearken: "O ye Dry Bones, Hear the word of the Lord." And you can pray: "Lord, I am Dead! I am Dead! Oh! Let me ly no longer among the Dead."

Excerpted from The Mansion of Happiness by Jill Lepore. Copyright © 2012 by Jill Lepore. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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