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Happiness: A History


In the tradition of books by Peter Gay and Simon Schama, Happiness is a major work that draws on a multitude of sources, including art and architecture, poetry and scripture, music and theology, and literature and myth, to offer a sweeping intellectual history of man's most elusive yet coveted goal.
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In the tradition of books by Peter Gay and Simon Schama, Happiness is a major work that draws on a multitude of sources, including art and architecture, poetry and scripture, music and theology, and literature and myth, to offer a sweeping intellectual history of man's most elusive yet coveted goal.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Jim Holt
Considering the handsome job McMahon has done in canvassing the best that has been said and thought about happiness through the ages, it would be churlish to complain about other omissions. And yet . . . well, I can't resist this gem from the French philosopher Alain (1868-1951), which has brought me so much consolation: "A man is occupied by that from which he expects to gain happiness, but his greatest happiness is the fact that he is occupied." Somehow it sounds even better in the original. You know what they say: an epigram is a platitude expressed in French.
— The New York Times
Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Although McMahon neither promises nor delivers the secret of happiness, his book can bring readers the satisfaction of intellectual adventure.
— The Washington Post
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. Agent, Tina Bennett. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Utilizing an abundance of sources-e.g., art and architecture, music and theology, literature and myth-McMahon (history, Florida State Univ.; Enemies of the Enlightenment) traces the transformation of the concept of happiness through more than 2000 years of Western thought. The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 details the evolution of happiness from Greek and Roman schools of philosophy (e.g., Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Stoicism, Epicureanism) to the Enlightenment, paying particular attention to the development of happiness as part of religious (particularly Christian) teachings; Part 2 marches into more modern thought, including skepticism, liberalism, Darwinism, German idealism, communism, and Freudian contemplations. Filled with ample and provoking commentary, this work keeps the reader engaged and makes valuable contributions to the concept of happiness with each successive chapter. Considering the range of information found in this book, it is highly recommended for both public and academic library systems.-Jason Moore, Madison Cty. Lib. Syst., MS Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802142894
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/10/2007
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 955,551
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Read an Excerpt


A History

By Darrin M. McMahon

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Copyright © 2005

Marrin M. McMahon

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8021-4289-3

Chapter One

As places where fun could be had, the pleasure gardens were forbearers of our modern
amusement parks, offering games and recreation, spectacles and refreshments, music and
sanctuaries, in which lovers could stroll. They put flesh on the new endorsement of
pleasure expressed in theory by the likes of Locke, symbolizing perfectly a wider
eighteenth-century aspiration to create space for happiness on earth. To dance, to sing, to
enjoy our food, to revel in our bodies and the company of others-in short, to delight in a
world of our own making-was not to defy God's will but to live as nature had intended.
This was our earthly purpose. As the poet Alexander Pope declared in his celebrated

Oh, happiness, our being's end and aim!

Good, pleasure, ease, content! Whate'er thy name:

That something still which prompts the eternal sigh,

For which we bear to live, or dare to die ...

"Does not everyone have a right to happiness?" asked the abbé Pestré, the author of the
entry on that subject in the French encyclopedia edited by Denis Diderot. Judged by the
standards of the preceding millennium and a half, the question was extraordinary: a right
to happiness? And yet it was posed rhetorically, in full confidence of the noddingassent
of enlightened minds.


Excerpted from Happiness
by Darrin M. McMahon
Copyright © 2005 by Marrin M. McMahon.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : the tragedy of happiness 1
1 The highest good 19
2 Perpetual felicity 66
3 From heaven to earth 140
4 Self-evident truths 197
A modern rite 253
5 Questioning the evidence 271
6 Liberalism and its discontents 312
7 Building happy worlds 363
8 Joyful science 406
Conclusion : happy ending 454
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