There’s no surer sign that life has become too comfortable for the rich than when they try to buy immortality. The first Chinese emperor enlisted scholars in his search for the elixir of eternal life and, after none was discovered, had them buried alive, figuring that if any of them was a true alchemist, he would return from the dead to share his secrets. (None ever did, but the emperor’s penchant for drinking mercury—which he believed also had life-giving properties—probably didn’t end up helping him live a long life.)
Leonard “Live Forever” Jones, a 19th-century US presidential candidate who accrued his fortune the American way—through speculation—believed that death could be overcome through prayer and fasting. Embarrassingly for his supporters, Jones died after refusing treatment for pneumonia on the grounds that illness was a moral, not a physical, concern. Later in the century, Gilded Age tycoons deified themselves through portrait-sitting, palace-building, and philanthropy, hoping this might at least sustain their image after their death, though it was then up to their heirs to maintain the memorials and the union-breaking that built them.