The Ends of Life (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Keith Thomas’s The Ends of Life grew out of a series of talks he gave in early 2000 under the rubric of the Ford Lectures in British History at the University of Oxford. The book retains the accessible tone of the original lectures, and each of the chapterswhich are based on separate lecturesis capable of standing alone as a coherent study. Together, though, the chapters contribute to Thomas’s overall investigation of the sources of satisfaction available to those living in England in the early modern period (roughly between the English Reformation and the American Revolution). As the hundred pages of references indicate, Thomas has drawn on an encyclopedic range of written sources to illustrate people’s thinking. Since the majority of people living during this period were illiterate, however, their thoughts and desires must be inferred from the texts left by their better-educated countrymen and women.
Thomas’s list of possible sources of happiness could be prolonged indefinitely, but he has chosen to focus on six: military prowess, work, money, reputation, personal relationships, and the afterlife. In Saturae (100-127; Satires, 1693), the Roman poet Juvenal devised his own list of the things people asked of the gods. Along with the wealth and military success that Thomas discusses, Juvenal included political power, learning, beauty, and long life, all of which Thomas ignores. To exhaust the list of human wants, however,...
(The entire section is 1801 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
The Evening Standard (London), March 30, 2009, p. 38.
History Today 59, no. 6 (June, 2009): 59.
London Review of Books 31, no. 14 (July 23, 2009): 18-19.
The New York Review of Books, October 22, 2009, pp. 8-12.
The Spectator 309, no. 9417 (February 21, 2009): 32-36.
Times Higher Education, February 12, 2009, p. 49.
The Times Literary Supplement, February 27, 2009, pp. 3-5.
The Wilson Quarterly 33, no. 3 (Summer, 2009): 103-104.
(The entire section is 49 words.)