The Conquest of Happiness

by Bertrand Russell (1930)

notes by Doug Muder (1999)

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.

About Bertrand Russell

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.

Caveats About The Conquest of Happiness

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.

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.

A. Does the modern world work against happiness?

B. The Outerward-focused Life versus the Inward-focused Life

C. Transcending Personal Hopes and Interests