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Immortality, Anyone?

February 14, 2009 by Reader's Connection

In this week’s Staff Recommends review, Mark Kincaid of the Decatur Branch introduces us to Fantastic Voyage. When I first saw the title, I thought Mark had flipped out; but I was remembering a 1966 movie about people (including Raquel Welch) who get all shrunk up and are put in a real small submarine and go sailing around in some poor guy’s bloodvessels. I never saw the film, though I did eventually have a colonoscopy.

Mark is talking about a book entitled Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. It’s all about making your life last longer, maybe forever.

Some of the titles I’ve gathered here are like Mark’s–giving you pointers on life extension. In his book, though, Robert Butler expresses doubts about the benefits of longevity; and David Friedman tells us how Charles Lindbergh’s interest in immortality led him to a passion for eugenics and sympathy for Naziism.  If you’re in the mood for some fictional skepticism, I’ve thrown in some classics. Long life and good health to you.

 Mortal Coil: A Short History of Living Longer by David Boyd Haycock

Mortal Coil: A Short History of Living LongerAuthor Haycock . . . surveys Western civilization’s hopes and schemes for longevity over the past four centuries, beginning with the last days of Sir Francis Bacon (who caught a fatal chill while stuffing a dead chicken with snow, so that its viability “might be long preserved”) and ending with Dr. Aubrey De Grey, whose current, controversial research into stem cells, he says, will eventually result in human lifespans of a thousand years or more . . . According to Haycock, now in his 30s, chances are better than ever that he’ll live to see the 22nd Century; his own book shows he may have some misplaced optimism, but he also has an entertaining read with lots of fascinating sidelights. — Publishers Weekly


The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and their Daring Quest to Live Forever by David M. Friedman The Immortalists

Friedman brings into detailed focus for the first time the relationship between famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and the Noble Prize-winning French surgeon Alexis Carrel. Driven by a desire to cure his ailing sister-in-law, Elizabeth Morrow, Lindbergh contacted Carrel in 1930 for the purpose of developing an artificial heart. What follows is the story of a world-changing friendship and scientific endeavor. Unrevealed to the public until now is that the two men had a more ambitious plan-to achieve immortality. Here Friedman elaborates on an absorbing aspect of their relationship-how belief in scientific progress and the quest for immortality fed their view for eugenics, all of which would collide into the harsh reality of Nazism. Friedman offers an insightful look into Lindbergh’s mind by providing motivations for his admiration of the Nazis, and then, in contrast, his personal reckoning with the war, which resulted in his disillusionment with scientific progress and a redefinition of the meaning of immortality. — Library Journal


The Longevity Revolution: The Benefits and Challenges of Living a Long Life by Robert N. Butler

The Longevity RevolutionUntil the early 20th century, few people made it to age 50; today, the average life expectancy is 77 and will continue to grow as science finds new ways to extend life, writes gerontologist Butler, founder of the National Institute on Aging and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Why Survive?: Being Old in America (1975). Longevity, however, is of little value in the absence of quality of life, he argues in this densely written series of discussions on the challenges of increasing longevity. Butler predicts more physical and mental illnesses and significant changes in family structure, economics, long-term care, and health care, as well as reviews the evolution of longevity, the politics of aging, and the threats of a longer life span. Despite the attraction of increased longevity, he is not convinced that a long life is always a better one. — Library Journal


Ultralongevity: The Seven-Step Program for a Younger, Healthier You by Mark Liponis

UltralongevityIn the latest book on aging well and reducing or minimizing degenerative disorders associated with aging, Liponis (medical director, Canyon Ranch Spa; coauthor, Ultraprevention) claims that an overactive immune system causes arthritis, diabetes, irritable-bowel disorders, asthma, and so on. C-reactive proteins (CRPs) indicate the level of immune system activity; Liponis cites studies that have shown how CRP levels can be lowered. As John Robbins did in Healthy at 100 and Sanjay Gupta in Chasing Life, Liponis focuses on ways to reduce wear and tear through healthy eating, regular exercise, social interaction, deep breathing, etc. His lengthy introduction to the immune system may be slow-going for some readers, but the program itself is easy to follow and supported by good documentation. Included are excellent recipes from the famed Canyon Ranch kitchen. — Library Journal


You Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty by Mehmet C. Oz and Michael F. Roizen

You Staying YoungPhysicians Oz and Roizen and a supporting cast of contributors explain why the body ages and how readers can become “anatomical puppeteers,” mastering their genes, bad habits, environmental pollution and stress while igniting the body’s ability to stay fit, strong and healthy. According to the authors, avoiding such major causes of death as cancer and heart disease increases life expectancy by only just under a decade. With their talent for creating vivid, humorous images (amplified by cartoon drawings), they describe 14 “major agers” and how readers can use what is known about telomeres (which look like the plastic ends of shoelaces), mitochondria (the body’s energy powerhouses) and other components of body functioning to repair and rejuvenate cells. — Publishers Weekly



Longevity Made Simple: How to Add Twenty Good Years to Your Life by Richard J. Flanigan 

Longevity Made Simple: How to Add Twenty Good Years to Your LifeMost of us fear aging itself less than the deterioration that is an inevitable accompaniment. Recent research, however, indicates that we can actively stave off much of this by properly attending to diet, exercise, and mental and social stimulation . . .  Flanigan and Sawyer are . . . straightforward and economical in style, zeroing in on the ten most deadly diseases (e.g., heart disease) and how to elude them . . . emphasize the importance of regular physical exercise, a diet rich in fiber and antioxidants and low in fat and processed foods, and sustained mental and social activity. — Library Journal


Ageless Nation: The Quest for Superlongevity and Physical Perfection by Michael G. Zey

Ageless NationIn this intriguing volume, futurist and author Zey imagines a time in which technology has stretched human life spans to 400 years or more. Genetic engineering, cloning technology and stem-cell science should eradicate disease and allow for nanoscopic repair and maintenance of the body, while “smart drugs” and “caloric restriction” programs ensure healthy bodies and sharp minds more or less indefinitely . . . Criticizing current environmental trends as “anti-progress” and “anti-human,” Zey’s own solutions include controversial measures like human control of weather, colonization of outer space and genetically modifying food. He concludes that the “eventuality” of “a modern Fountain of Youth” is “closer than we think”; Zey’s educated guess may not be entirely convincing, but it is both thorough and fascinating. — Publishers Weekly


The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

 If you think Michael Zey’s ideas sound questionable, try Dorian Gray. This may only work if you’re stupendously beautiful. Have a portrait of yourself painted, and then behave in whatever manner you like. No signs will show.






Tuck EverlastingTuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

This blog usually focuses on adult books, but it was mortally impossible for me to do a post about immortality and not include the Tuck family and their secret spring.






The library no longer owns a copy of Mumbo Jumbo, by Ishmael Reed, and you’ll have to get it on Interlibrary Loan. You may not think it qualifies as a classic–one critic claimed that Reed suffered from diarrhea of the typewriter–but it was the first pro-Voodoo novel that I’d encountered, written by a guy who was himself running a Voodoo church, and it stuck in my mind.

It comes to mind now because I remember an interview in which Reed claimed to have been disappointed that he didn’t win an Edgar (murder mystery award) for writing a novel with a villain who’s eleven hundred years old. (Apologies if I have that year-count wrong.)

1 comment »

  1. Steve Bridge says:

    Don’t forget the Tom Robbins novel, Jitterbug Perfume, surely the funniest novel on immortality ever written. The secret has to do with breathing, bedding, and beets. Lots of beets.

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