My expectations for this new collection of essays from New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore stemmed from the book's grand title. I envisioned a series of short introductions to different philosophies, of primarily religious nature, that concern themselves with the beginning of life and afterlife. What I found was, paradoxically, both more complex and simpler. Lepore's essays rely on mundane artifacts and obscure stories to bring attention to how Americans contend with matters of life and death, and questions about immortality and morality.
As one would expect from a Harvard historian, this collection is quite edifying. However it is not rigidly academic - aiming for engaging cocktail party conversation rather than comprehensive historical assessment. Because Lepore skirts academic debate in favor of pop culture references and a dash of personal narrative, she often opts for telling...
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