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

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Mansion of Happiness

A History of Life and Death

By Jill Lepore

The Mansion of Happiness
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Jun 2012,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2013,
    320 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


The secularization of progress and the rise of individualism had a great deal to do with another transformation: the shape of a life was changing. Life used to begin where it ended; it ended where it began. A lot of other things used to be circular, too. Everything went round and round: day and night, the seasons, the crops in the field, fate. In an unraveling that had begun even before Daniel Bradley sailed to Salem, all those circles were turning into lines. The sun still set at the end of every day, but now you could turn on the lights and day would never end. The very idea of history came to a kind of close. The world of tomorrow was infinitely more interesting than the world of yesterday. Novelty replaced redemption.

While his father worked in the mills, Milton Bradley attended Lowell's grammar and high schools. Then he went to the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard, where he likely studied with Jacob Bigelow, Harvard's Rumford Professor of Physical and Mathematical Science. In a widely read treatise called Elements of Technology, Bigelow used the word "technology" to describe "the application of the sciences to the useful arts." (Before that, technology was something you made by hand. Bigelow's usage soon found a place in the name of a new school: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.) Technology, Bigelow said, was "promoting the progress and happiness of our race." That's neither what Bunyan meant by progress nor Milton by bliss. No machine can take you into the mansion of happiness or even to the gate of heaven.

Lewis Bradley did not find happiness shackled to a new and improved loom. He left Lowell for Hartford, in search of better work, which meant that his son had to drop out of school. Here, though, was yet another novelty: the Bradleys could travel from Lowell to Hartford by train. At the time, the locomotive was the symbol of progress, pictured, in prints and paintings, chugging across the continent, conquering nature, unstoppable. You could measure it: each mile of railroad track was another mile of progress. In the 1840s, train tracks reached across Massachusetts, much to the distress of Henry David Thoreau, who had built on the banks of a pond in Concord a very different mansion of happiness: a cabin in the woods. While the train to Fitchburg rode by, its whistle screeching, its smokestack puffing, Thoreau wrote that all those machines were merely "improved means to an unimproved end": "We boast that we belong to the nineteenth century and are making the most rapid strides of any nation," but that, he believed, was humbug. "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us."

Thoreau planted a hill of beans and spent his time hoeing, reading, writing, picking huckleberries, and listening to bullfrogs trumping, hawks screaming, and whip-poor-wills singing vespers. "Mr. Thoreau is thus at war with the political economy of the age," one reviewer of Walden complained in 1854. But Thoreau wasn't so much battling progress as dodging it. He had the idea "not to live in this restless, nervous, bustling, trivial Nineteenth Century, but stand or sit thoughtfully while it goes by." No one can manage that. Ralph Waldo Emerson drafted a letter, never sent: "My dear Henry, A frog was made to live in a swamp, but a man was not made to live in a swamp. Yours ever, R."

Milton Bradley, no frog he, did not sit out the restless, nervous, bustling, trivial nineteenth century. He kept striving. He left Hartford. By 1856, he had made his way to Springfield, Massachusetts, where, two years later, he opened his own business: "MILTON BRADLEY Mechanical Draftsman & Patent Solicitor." In an age of machines, he would write not poems or prayers but patents. The next year, when Sa‘id Pasha, the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, hired a Springfield firm to build a $300,000 railroad train on which he might travel the newly laid tracks between Cairo and Alexandria, it was Milton Bradley who designed and supervised the construction of a rosewood-and-mahogany observation car, from sketches supplied by an Egyptian artist.

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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Pope and Mussolini
    The Pope and Mussolini
    by David I. Kertzer
    The Pope and Mussolini is a riveting account of the parallel rise to power of the authoritarian ...
  • Book Jacket: The Promise
    The Promise
    by Ann Weisgarber
    Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame, once wrote that "...all things ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Moon
    Black Moon
    by Kenneth Calhoun
    The popularity of book-turned-movie World War Z and television series The Walking Dead points to a ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Sailor Twain
by Mark Siegel

Published Mar. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour

"Exciting, emotionally engaging and amibtious. I loved it!" - Kate Mosse

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I T T O A Eye

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.