“The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death” is a 2012 Book List Essential

As Posted on the Democrat and Chronicle Young Professionals’Blog

I rarely go a day without wanting to learn some new piece of information. It can be something as complex as the Vietnam War or as mundane as the origins of Pixy Stix (which started in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952, for the record), I have always been a fiend for knowledge. But more often than not, it takes an older book or primary source to satiate my thirst for history. As a religion major at the University of Rochester, I had to read documents that were older than the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves (~400 BCE)! However, I have fallen for the works of a historian and journalist who actually isn’t as old as papyrus. The New Yorker staff writer and David Woods Kemper ’41 professor of American History at Harvard University Jill Lepore has hooked me into the profound, yet intuitive, concept that historical events of the past can constantly be rewritten to offer an amazingly witty narrative. What Lepore writes about surely has been discussed over the years, but the way she links one seemingly unrelated cultural staple to the next uncovers an abstruse motif. In essence, that is what the best historians offer society

The book that won me over you ask? Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death. The title caught my eye while I was browsing through a few book displays around my stomping grounds at Rush Rhees Library. (If there is one thing you should know about marketing anything to a religion major, it is that you can virtually add the word “life” or “death” to any product or service and we will likely want to investigate). With my strange bias against newer books — with the exception of biographies — I sifted through the pages rather dubiously when I saw that it was published in 2012. Personally, I consider someone who publishes a book in 2012 to be my competition as opposed to my teacher.

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