A Finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Nonfiction
From one of our most accomplished and widely admired historians, a revelatory portrait of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister and a history of history itself. Like her brother, Jane Franklin was a passionate reader, a gifted writer, and an astonishingly shrewd political commentator. Unlike him, she was a mother of twelve. Benjamin Franklin, who wrote more letters to his sister than he wrote to anyone else, was the original American self-made man; his sister spent her life caring for her children. They left very different traces behind. Making use of an amazing cache of little- studied material, including documents, objects, and portraits only just discovered, Jill Lepore brings Jane Franklin to life in a way that illuminates not only this one woman but an entire world—a world usually lost to history. Lepore’s life of Jane Franklin, with its strikingly original vantage on her remarkable brother, is at once a wholly different account of the founding of the United States and one of the great untold stories of American history and letters: a life unknown.
A finalist for the 2013 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Renowned Harvard scholar and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has written a strikingly original, ingeniously conceived and beautifully crafted history of American ideas about life and death from before the cradle to beyond the grave.
How does life begin? What does it mean? What happens when we die? “All anyone can do is ask,” Lepore writes. “That’s why any history of ideas about life and death has to be, like this book, a history of curiosity.” Lepore starts that history with the story of a seventeenth-century Englishman who had the idea that all life begins with an egg, and ends it with an American who, in the 1970s, began freezing the dead. In between, life got longer, the stages of life multiplied, and matters of life and death moved from the library to the laboratory, from the humanities to the sciences. Lately, debates about life and death have determined the course of American politics. Each of these debates has a history. Investigating the surprising origins of the stuff of everyday life—from board games to breast pumps—Lepore argues that the age of discovery, Darwin, and the Space Age turned ideas about life on earth topsy-turvy. “New worlds were found,” she writes, and “old paradises were lost.” As much a meditation on the present as an excavation of the past, The Mansion of Happiness is delightful, learned, and altogether beguiling.
AMERICAN CHRONICLES about Robert C. W. Ettinger, a founder of the cryonics movement. Robert C. W. Ettinger is ninety-one years old and he is a founder of the cryonics movement. When he dies, the blood will be drained from his body, antifreeze will be pumped into his arteries, and holes will be drilled in his skull, after which he will be stored in a vat of liquid nitrogen at minus three hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit. He expects to be defrosted, sometime between fifty and two hundred years from now, by scientists who will make him young and strong and tireless. Ettinger has already frozen his mother and his two wives, along with ninety-two other people who await resurrection inside giant freezers in a building just a few blocks from his house, in Clinton Township, Michigan. The Cryonics Institute occupies a seven-thousand-square-foot warehouse in an industrial park. Past a shabby waiting room is the small office of Andy Zawacki, who constitutes half of C.I.’s full-time staff. He is also one of C.I.’s more than eight hundred members, which means that he plans to be frozen when he dies. The writer visited the freezer storage area. There were fourteen cylindrical freezers. Each held six patients, and all but four were filled. There were also three older, rectangular freezers. The writer asked if the corpses were put in canisters within the cylinders. “No, in sleeping bags,” Ettinger said. Ettinger was born in Atlantic City in December of 1918. His mother’s family came from Odessa; his father was born in Germany. In about 1922, the family moved to Detroit. When he was eight years old, Ettinger started reading Amazing Stories, a sci-fi magazine. Ettinger dates his interest in immortality to 1931, when he read “The Jameson Satellite.” Mentions Ted Williams’s head, which was frozen and stored at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, C.I.’s chief rival. “Neuropreservation” has a scientific attitude, but that doesn’t make it science. Credentialled laboratory scientists don’t generally think the dead will one day awaken. The consensus appears to be that when you try to defrost a frozen corpse you get mush. And even if, in the future, scientists could repair the damage done to cells by freezing and thawing, what they would have, at best, is a cadaver. Ettinger announced the dawn of what he called the Freezer Era at the height of the Cold War. His book, “The Prospect of Immortality,” appeared in 1964, the year “Dr. Strangelove” hit theatres. When the book came out, Ettinger became something of a star. The first human being was frozen in 1966; it went badly, and the body had to be buried a few months later. The following year, a man was frozen by an organization that later became the Cryonics Society of California. Ettinger’s father and brother were not frozen; they “were lost.” His first patient was his mother, Rhea, whom he froze in 1977. His second patient was his first wife, Elaine, who died in 1987. He remarried the following year. His second wife, Mae, suffered a stroke in 2000, and she was frozen as well. Ettinger finds nothing so uninteresting as history. Describes the writer and Ettinger going through his family photo albums.