The Conquest of Happiness
by Bertrand Russell (1930)
notes by Doug Muder (1999)
It helps to know a little bit about the author of a book like Conquest.
And besides, Russell is one of the most fascinating characters on the 20th
century intellectual scene.
Conquest is a product of its times. It would be easy for a 1990s
reader to dismiss the book (or be offended by it) because of the use of
patriarchal language or stereotypes of race or gender. Better, I think,
to acknowledge the difficulties of reading a book from another era and
see what we can learn from it.
The book has two halves: The Causes of Unhappiness and The Causes
of Happiness. The outline goes chapter-by-chapter and presents ideas
in more-or-less the same order Russell used.
These notes consist of a brief biography of Bertrand Russell, a short discussion
of the allowances that a present-day reader must make when reading Conquest,
a detailed outline of the book, and a discussion of three themes. Quotes
and summaries of Russell's views are in roman type; commentary and study
questions are in italics. Page numbers are from the 1996 paperback edition
published by Liveright. The linear version of
these notes (as handed out in class) is also available.
Themes in The Conquest of Happiness
Certain themes come up again and again in the book in different forms.
I've collected three here; you may notice others.