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  • The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death

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    Renowned Harvard scholar and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has composed 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.
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  • Blindspots: The Many Ways We Cannot See

    Blindspots: The Many Ways We Cannot See

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    Sight can be so effortless, so useful, and so entertaining--the average human can distinguish several million colors; a falcon can see a fencepost from three thousand yards--that we never stop to think about how complex a process it is and how easily it can fail us. We never have as clear and complete a picture of the world around us as we think we do. The gaps between what our eyes take in and what is in our mind's eye provide the unifying theme in Bruno Breitmeyer's wide-ranging volume. In his fascinating account of the many ways that our eyes, and minds, both see and fail to see, Breitmeyer moves from cataracts and color blindness through blindsight, acquired dyslexia, and visual agnosias, including fascinating cases like the woman who did not know what she was seeing was a dog until it barked. He then uses what we've learned about the limits of our sight to illustrate the limits of our ability to mentally visualize and our ability to reason, covering everything from logical fallacies to how our motives and emotions relentlessly color the way we see the world. This book will intrigue anyone interested in how easily we can fail to capture the world around us without even realizing it.
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