Friday, June 8, 2012

Games, Life, and Death: Jill Lepore, Insights Galore

Men are made for games, the Judge saith.

Cormac McCarthy's Judge Holden, that is.  McCarthy is also famous for saying that books should be about life and death.  Well, considering those two criteria, McCarthy should certainly enjoy Jill Lepore's new work of creative non-fiction, The Mansion of Happiness:  A History of Life and Death.

The Mansion of Happiness was one of many board games invented by Milton Bradley, whose games figure prominently in the book along with the more ancient games upon which they were based.

The book follows the stages of Mankind, connecting humanity's notions of life and death in every chapter. Such as Aristotle's three stages of Man, with the cycles of mankind parallel to the cycles of an individual lifespan.  I've already posted about Emerson's conception of the universal trinity at this link.

The author devotes a chapter to famous psychologist G. Stanley Hall, the inventor of our concept of adolescence who also held the idea that the life of a man parallels the life of Mankind--birth, childhood, adolescence, adult, then old age and death.

Jill Lepore's narrative extends those stages a bit, with a look at the search for the origin of the atavistic egg, and an afterward devoted to the search for a rebirth, for the hope of a resurrection in the material future.  Throughout she draws amazing connections between the game and life itself, while giving us the history of the concepts that too many of us take for granted today.

The game board is our map.  Along the way, we are treated to the histories of games, the abortion and right-to-life conflict, mother's milk, children's books, parenthood, the divide between property rights and human rights, eugenics, cryonics, and more, all told with plenty of verve and irony and insights galore.   

With marvelous notes and a complete index.  One of my top five books of the year so far.

Last night, after blogging about this, I started thinking about what she quoted by Mark Twain and picked up my volume of his collected essays. I read a couple of them, including his take on patriotism as a religion, but I didn’t come across the work she quoted under any title:

“The Revised Catechism

What is the chief end of man?
A. To get rich.

In what way?
A. Dishonestly if we can, honestly if we must.

Who is God, the only one and True?
A. Money is God…”

In an endnote, she cites Mark Twain's piece in The New York Tribune, September 27, 1871.

Her history of games is very interesting, and the American versions of more ancient games always have a way of changing life’s goals into money, such as the Parker Brothers' Monopoly.

This got me to thinking about another game that I played in my youth which she does not mention. It was called CAREERS. I did a search on the net and found out from Wikipedia that it was created by science-fiction author and inventor James Cooke Brown and came out in 1955. The game’s objects were happiness points but you could choose to collect them through love or fame or money, and board positions were obtained through the role of the dice. It seems to me now that this was a fairer, better game than Monopoly, which I also played.

Wikipedia says that James Cooke Brown also invented a new logical language, wrote about computers creating work, invented a new type of sailboat, and wrote a science-fiction work advocating a different type of social system where, in the future, Mankind could at last achieve peace. His books are all out of print and command prices in the hundreds of dollars. He died on a sailing trip to South America at age 78.

1 comment:

  1. Well, great review, I just want to run and get this book right now. I also am going to forward your review to my friend Mister Anchovy. Thanks!