“Lifespan” was definitely one the most challenging books I have read this year and if it wasn’t for a book club I’ve attended, I would have never come across it! As I noted down 25 pages in, I straight away understood that it would be a bumpy ride. It’s demanding of your entire attention and it’s complex if you’re new to the topic of the research on the process of aging (which was the case for me). There are parts that are insanely scientific (explaining processes that happen within cells in extreme details), which are then alternated with more general and understandable explanations. That fact influenced the first star reduction for me, since the book doesn’t seem to have a clear target group. I’ve read criticism in reviews from the scientific community, saying that it’s not complex and challenging enough, whereas it’s a bit too scientific for a reader completely new to the topic.
The structure of the book is very clear and straight-forward: Separated into three parts, the past, the present and the possible future linked to the topic of aging. So even when you’re struggling through the complexity (which was my second point for a star reduction), at least you’re able to follow the main thoughts and structure. To give you a taste of the worst parts, this is what they look like: 😛
“Descended from gene B in M. superstes, sirtuins are enzymes that remove acetyl tags from histones and other proteins and, by doing so, change the packaging of the DNA, turning genes off and on when needed.” (p. 24)
The most important take-away from the reading experience for me was the fact that my understanding of aging as an inevitable process has been modified. The author’s main goal was to convincingly present you the arguments that aging is simply a disease, like many others we recognise as such. Whereas some suggestions are given on how to counteract this process, don’t expect too much on that side. The classics of eating less, fasting, not smoking, HIIT workouts or “colder than comfortable temperatures” for our body are presented, the added benefit here is the fact that more details are given on why these measures work. What was completely new for me, was learning about the importance of the label of a disease on a certain process in order to advance quicker with its further developments.
” ‘Making progress against one disease means that another will eventually emerge in its place […]. However, evidence suggests that if aging is delayed, all fatal and disabling disease risks would be lowered simultaneously.’ ” (p. 257)
What I really enjoyed and appreciated was the fact that the author touched upon topics of the importance of gender balance when doing tests for new treatments and also the side of possible dangers linked to collecting each and every little bit of information on our bodies and about what we do in our lives in the future. He seemed to have a well balanced way of presenting both his super optimistic opinion, as well as the one of critics. I also noticed how he credits trainees in his lab for important discoveries instead of taking all the recognition for himself, which shows a pleasant degree of modesty.
“One of these assumptions is that males and females are essentially the same. We’re all too slowly coming around to the shameful recognition that, for most of medical history, our treatments and therapies have been based on what was best for males, thus hindering healthy clinical outcomes for females.” (p. 182)
If you decide to give this book a try, you’ll be able to dive into a huge variety of subjects, such as reconsidering the way we’re working (the 5 day week), reforms of the retirement system, how we can adapt to the increasing number of people living on planet Earth, the future of medicine and how it should be much more personalised (adapted to each patient’s DNA) and so much more. If you’re feeling up for a challenging read on a biological topic, this book might be the right one for you.
Edition: ISBN 978-1-9821-3587-4
Atria International, 2019