From Publishers Weekly
Before the contemporary onslaught of therapeutic treatments and self-help guidance, the very idea of happiness in this life was virtually unknown. In this eminently readable work, McMahon (Enemies of Enlightenment) looks back through 2,000 years of thought, searching for evidence of how our contemporary obsession came to be. From the tragic plays of ancient Greece to the inflammatory rhetoric of Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, McMahon delves deeply into the rich trove of texts that elucidate and confirm the development of Western notions of this elusive ideal. In one particularly rousing section, he highlights the breakthrough thinking of German theologian and religious revolutionary Martin Luther. Locked in self-imposed exile in the Augustine Black Monastery in Wittenberg, Luther struggled with a God who punished sinners, then realized that man is "justified—made just, not punished with justice..." and that this life was one to be lived, that man must "drink more, engage in sports and recreation, aye, even sin a little" in order to be happy. Throughout McMahon leads the reader with strong, clear thinking, laying out his ideas with grace, both challenging and entertaining us in equal measure.
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Today bookstore shelves are stocked with encyclopedia titles like Salt, Zero, The Pencil, Cod, Chocolate, and One Good Turn (A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw). Happiness follows in suit but delivers a surprisingly rounded view of its subject. True to his subtitle, McMahon is more interested in cataloging the manifold interpretations of his slippery subject than in delivering a decisive conclusion of what it should be. A few critics wanted some answers; instead, McMahon raises many questions. Certainly, this professor of history at Florida State University presents some thinly veiled opinions, but the success of the book is founded on its encyclopedic and accessible presentation of this most evasive idea.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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