Melissa Maerz
June 06, 2012 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Mansion of Happiness

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Jill Lepore
publisher
Knopf
genre
Nonfiction

We gave it an A

Named after the Victorian-era board game that inspired ? Milton Bradley’s LIFE, this ? fascinating book explores a few centuries’ worth of ideas about life and death — you know, just a light beach read. But for all its analysis of Darwin and Aristotle, The Mansion of Happiness is a lot of fun. Riffing on everything from breast pumps to cryogenics, New Yorker writer Lepore shows how our concepts of birth, youth, middle age, and old age have changed with cultural shifts like industrialization and feminism, leading us to view our lives as less circular (”ashes to ashes”) and more linear. As a storyteller, she’s always engaging, even surprising: At one point, she suggests that the 1920s birth control movement fueled modern conservatism. As for her take on childhood, well, you’ll never read Stuart Little the same way again. A

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