When does life begin? When does it end? In the political climate of the 21st century, as candidates spar over abortion and death panels, everyone seems to have a different opinion. History tells a different story.
The answer to life’s questions used to be easy. Early Americans imagined their lives to be ruled by destiny, by the whims of a puritanical God.
Fast-forward a few decades, and the picture grows much more complicated. By 1860, the family farm had been replaced by booming factories. Steam trains were chugging across newly-laid tracks. And the Patent Office was inundated with new ideas from inventors who wanted to make American life easier, giving our countrymen some measure of control over their destiny. These innovations certainly changed Americans’ lives, but they also changed Americans ideas about life. With new inventions and scientific discoveries, Americans began to realize that they had some control over their lives, and, they hoped, their deaths.
Author Jill Lepore examines the history of these ideas, and many more, in her new book, "The Mansion of Happiness."