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 by Jill Lepore
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2012, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2013, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


No game is more didactic: "At this amusement each will find / A moral fit t'improve the mind." Whether it's amusing is difficult to say. The Mansion of Happiness is hard to finish, mostly because the wages of sin are so harsh - "Whoever becomes a SABBATH BREAKER must be taken to the WHIPPING POST and whipt" (a retreat of six squares) - that you're forever going backward and losing turns. However popular the Mansion of Happiness was with the parents who purchased it, the game boards that survive in archives are in such suspiciously good condition that at least one historian has wondered whether children - who must, invariably, have been given the game as a gift - could ever bear to play it. Its rules read like a sermon: "Whoever possesses AUDACITY, CRUELTY, IMMODESTY, or INGRATITUDE, must return to his former situation till his turn comes to spin again, and not even think of Happiness, much less partake of it."


Milton Bradley was born in Vienna, Maine, in 1836, two centuries after Daniel Bradley crossed the Atlantic, by which time the Bradleys had not yet begun to think of happiness, much less partake of it. He was the great-great-grandson of Jonathan Bradley, one of the many members of the Bradley family killed by Indians. He was his parents' only son. He was named after the Puritan author of Paradise Lost. As a boy, he read Pilgrim's Progress. When he was ten, his family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, so that his father, Lewis, an insolvent, itinerant craftsman, could work in the textile mills.

The nineteenth century was an age of machines: the steam engine, the cotton gin, the power loom. Inventors abounded; the patent office could barely keep up. "Men of progress" they were called, and "conquerors of nature." Their machines were better than poetry. The genius of Eli Whitney was said to rival that of Shakespeare. The head of the U.S. Patent Office declared the steamship "a mightier epic" than the Iliad, and any fool could see that James Watt had a thing or two over Cicero. Machines were thought to be the engines of progress, the "index of the degree in which the ben- efits of civilization are anywhere enjoyed," as James Mill, John Stuart Mill's father, put it, in his six-volume History of British India. (Having never been to India proved no obstacle to Mills's claiming that Indians were stalled on the march to progress, as measured by their "great want of ingenuity and completeness in instruments and machinery.")

But the age of machines had its critics. Thomas Carlyle considered faith in machines a kind of spiritual bondage, something akin to a religious fal- lacy but worse, and every bit as much a delusion as seventeenth-century New Englanders' belief in witchcraft. Faith in progress is faith in the future, but if we think that machines liberate us from the past, Carlyle argued, we are wrong; it is we who are their prisoners. "Practically considered," he wrote, "our creed is Fatalism; and, free in hand and foot, we are shackled in heart and soul with far straighter than feudal chains." We may be blind to those shackles, blinded by a fog as thick as London's, as he put it, but we are just as surely "fettered by chains of our own forging."

What Carlyle was describing, and what the Bradleys, like everyone else, were caught up in, was a quite extraordinary transition, a shift in where people were seeking answers to questions about the meaning of life: from the ancients to the moderns, from the pulpit to the patent office, from books to machines, from the arts to the sciences. Not just the source but the nature of authority changed. Answers you used to find in the past you were now expected to find in the future. And you were supposed to find them yourself.

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!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Happiness
    Happiness
    by Heather Harpham
    Of the 53 reviews submitted for Happiness, 49 readers rated it a four- or five-star book for an ...
  • Book Jacket
    My Name Is Leon
    by Kit De Waal
    Kit de Waal's striking debut, My Name is Leon, has inspired this big, long, complicated question: ...
  • Book Jacket: New People
    New People
    by Danzy Senna
    Danzy Senna has spent virtually her entire writing career exploring the complicated intersections of...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
News of the World by Paulette Jiles

A brilliant work of historical fiction that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Heart's Invisible Furies
    by John Boyne

    A sweeping, heartfelt saga set in Ireland from the author of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written--a story about sacrifice and motherhood.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I's A D Before D

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

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

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.