108 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2011
Seriously! Never Say Die is an excellent analysis of the realities of growing older in America, with its disappearing wealth, health, and social network.
Anyone who has taken care of their own parents knows what an enormous lot of crap is currently being peddled about "third careers" and "active aging" and "age-fighting cosmeceuticals." If you haven't known a lot of older people in your younger life, you are in for some big, big surprises as time goes by. Jobs, money, and looks don't last--everyone "knows" this but believes they'll be some kind of magical exception. But if you live long enough (and many of us might)--not so much.
Jacoby brilliantly eviscerates the happy myths of how "80 is the new 30" with what struck me as deadly accuracy. She shows with compelling clarity the mathematical impossibility of today's wage earners saving "enough" to fund a comfortable (or even decent) retirement. She points out that life's last viable decades or so are especially bad times to move to places where residents MUST drive, after many of them won't be able to. She shows how hard it is to have a decent death in the American medical system--and why.
I'm well over 50, and this book confirmed much of what I suspected was bogus about what our culture has decided to think about aging. Things that might actually help? Walk more (maybe a lot more), buy less, work more, connect more with your children, and DON'T move to the stereotypical retirement "dream home" on a Florida golf course. Easier said than done, as we all know, but that's a "retirement plan" no Wall Street wizard or wing-nut politician can destroy.
If you're making big decisions about the last future you'll ever have, this book could well be the best adviser you'll find.
142 of 151 people found the following review helpful
Susan Jacoby has written of the "new" old-age in her book, "Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age". As a journalist, Jacoby has taken both personal and societal events and woven them together to produce an uncomprimising view of how Americans - and the first Baby Boomers just hit 65 - have tried to redefine old-age to make it - well, almost..."inviting".
Of course, she knows - and writes - that all the psycho-babble and advertising gimmicks cannot make our graying hair, our ever-growing bellies, and our arthritic knees any more acceptable to us by trying to say that "60 is the new 40" or even "90 is the new 50"! We are getting older and old age - which is acknowledged as beginning at 60, can be divided up as "60 to 80" as "young old age" and "80 and above as "old old age". As one who at 60 has just gone from "old middle age" to "young old age", I'm trying to see where I am on the continuum of the aging scale of my peers.
Well, Jacoby notes - and takes to task - the hucksterism of those hawking both the promise of eternal youth and the perceived yearning for eternal youth. Do you really want to live to be 120? I certainly don't; not with the problems of out-living my coin, my health, and my friends and family. Life IS finite, and it's a good thing it is.
Jacoby does an excellent job at highlighting the way the elderly are treated in our society. Yes, we're "wiser", but does that always make us respected by others? Are the problems of health care going to be fixed - Richard Nixon declared "war on cancer" in the 1970's but we're not winning that war just yet. Alzheimer's enfeebles many of our seniors; we're not making great progress - no matter what the drug companies promise - at helping those who suffer from it. And when AARP shows "young old age" problems as being just one bottle of "male-enhancement" pills and one plastic surgery away from being eradicated, they're really not telling the truth. These problems will follow us as we age.
Jacoby's book is entertaining reading. She's a lively, never boring writer. She's written a timely book and one that should appeal to those of us nudging into old age.
55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Undoubtedly, Susan Jacoby has a brilliant mind. Likewise, Never Say Die is a brilliant book. My only criticism is that Susan Jacoby could have used a brilliant editor; this book is overly long, and (not occasionally) tangential. But that's not reason to avoid this book. Quite the opposite, it's part of her charm -- the fact that the narrative is meandering, but always gets back to the point: old age, and how it kind of sucks for a lot of people, despite what the media would have us believe.
I am probably not (or maybe I am exactly?) the audience Susan Jacoby had in mind. I am 37 as I write this. I am interested in the topic of old age after watching my once vibrant and fun grandmother descend into a terrible depression that lasted nearly a decade. She died sad. Worse, no one seemed to have compassion for her perpetual bad mood (including myself). At her funeral, people lamented her bad attitude, and seemed to have forgotten that she was, in her younger days, imperfect (like all of us) but charming.
I didn't really understand what happened to my grandmother. It never occurred to me that maybe it simply sucked not being able to do everything she enjoyed doing. She often said she was ready to die, but instead was hooked up to machines, took lots of pills, descended into bitterness.
As always, Jacoby is a voice of reason and sanity. She writes with honesty, clarity and ultimately a lot of compassion. The fact that Jacoby is able to take such a cold, hard look at getting old while being old (or young-old, as she calls it) herself is quite moving. And while I am not a fan of using this term to describe books or Hollywood acting performances, in this case it's apt: Jacoby's book is quite brave. It takes a lot of courage to choose reality, especially now that we exist in a culture that embraces Oprah-style New Age mythology; fantasy over cold, hard, truth. We think God, or The Secret, or yoga, or __________ is going to save us. It never does. Jacoby is the modern, atheist version of a zen master, banging us over the head -- "wake up, people!" -- with the meditation stick, hard. We need it. I need it.
I think this book is important. We are all going to die, and most of us are going to die while being some form of old. Personally, I want to do so with expectations firmly planted in reality. Jacoby has written a sane reminder that old age and death can't be avoided, regardless of how many face-lifts or bowls of kale we eat.
75 of 81 people found the following review helpful
When I read the dust jacket of this book I was afraid it was going to be unjustified attack on the longevity and healthy aging movements, but I bought it anyway because I have read some of her other books and have found her to be an excellent writer. I think Jocoby is unduly pessimistic about the opportunities for longer life and healthier aging. She seems to dismiss many lifestyle interventions because they don't seem affect one disease - Alzheimer's. It is well established that functionality in old age can be greatly improved by strength training for example. Her liberal politics are obvious throughout and because some people cannot afford to save for their retirement, she seems to imply that most people cannot (She must not live in the same consumer-spending instant-gratification world I live in) and the government is her answer to everything - ignoring the unintended consequences of what she proposes.
However, if you set aside some of these biases, what remains is an excellent work. Do not dismiss the whole book, as some other reviewers have done, simply because you disagree with some of what she writes. Some of what she writes about the over-optimistic propaganda of the longevity movement is right on target and it needs to be taken down a notch. Her chapters on dementia, the alleged wisdom of old age, the issues created by women living longer than men, and others are outstanding and bring a lot of rational thought to subjects people want to ignore because they are too depressing to think about. I disagree with her government-is-the-answer approach to the financial problems of old age, but she nonetheless provides an excellent analysis of the issue which is undeniably important.
This book is a much needed analysis of the darker sides of getting older and everyone interested in the subject - whatever your particular viewpoint - needs to consider what she has to say. I don't agree with everything in this book, but I'm better informed and more thoughtful as a result of reading it.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2011
Every book I've read about the "new old," how to get there and stay there in an indefinite holding pattern, has left me feeling ashamed that, at 72, I can't seem to measure up. Arthritis still hurts. I run out of energy. I'm sometimes sad about the losses that come with each new birthday. I want to smile when I feel good, but not wear a ubiquitous smiley-face because it's become counter to the new-old rules to let one's old age look anything less than terrific. I want to confront, understand, and ultimately cherish my old age. I feel I got here honorably.
Jacoby's book is strong medicine in terms of the realities of old age, but I believe it starts to balance the scales toward a more even-handed examination of life's late chapters and its ending. And, as other reviewers point out, you don't have to buy every word of it to recognize the good sense of many of its fact-based premises.
After reading it, I'm going to look more closely into whatever sensible steps I can take to hold onto modest financial solvency, mobility and reasonably good health. On the other hand, I'm not going to stop taking Resveratrol!
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2011
If you're a boomer, or soon to be retired, this book is a must. The author not only is extremely knowledgable, but gets her points across in a very cogent way. We all know in our hearts that we can't last forever, and we really don't want to, anyway. We're being sold a constant bill of goods by the media, Big Pharma, AARP and the like; this book presents the reality of what life is like when you get old, which may be a differing chronological age individually, but inevitable. It's not depressing, just sobering and thought-provoking. It's not a "how-to" book on living forever or even aging well, but more of a treatise on how older people should be treated and cared for, and how we should be dealing with them as a society.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2011
Never say die, by Susan Jacoby, is a measured argument against the positive self-help movement that was definitively articulated by Barbara Ehrenreich in Bright-Sided. Jacoby, however, exclusively takes on the smiley-face propaganda that currently circles around aging. She explodes many of the myths of old age, such as the years above 80 being the "Golden Age" and the idea that medical technology will produce an imminent silver bullet that will allow people to live forever.
She also discusses the unwillingness of people below the age of 70 to talk about the subject at all, as if old age were as obscene as death. Most of the ebullient people interviewed for books on how you can live happily forever, she notes, are younger than 60, so anything they say about an age that they have not yet experienced is often wishful thinking.
Much of her material comes from conversations with her mother, which, while limiting in viewpoint, are also heartfelt and honest and breach topics that society generally does not want to discuss.
As always, Jacoby's research is encyclopedic, and her arguments are persuasive--except in areas that she doesn't have personal experience in. Her ill-tempered dismissal of the est training, and its gentler successor, the Landmark Education Forum, were almost enough to make me stop reading the book. I've taken the est training or Forum seven or eight times, and my experience each time was transformative. For this particular subject, it seems that the only source Jacoby used was a reactive article by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison.
On balance, however, Never Say Die is a sobering look at what old old age often brings. Jacoby acknowledges that the only positive thing she has to say about it is to walk regularly and quickly, and "look for work wherever you can find it."
In the Jacoby canon, this book doesn't reach the brilliant argument of The Age of Unreason or Freethinkers, two of her best books. But it certainly lets you see why the prevailing narrative in our society is to candy-coat a process that all of us will go through and that will end with finality.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
There is a belief that has gained prominence in the US over the last couple of decades that growing old has been overcome, therefore unnecessary, even inexcusable, through healthy living, self-transformation, and the utilization of medicines and treatments. Sympathy for those persons who have noticeably aged is in short supply; they too could be part of the "newly young" had they adopted healthy lifestyles or had the financial responsibility to pay for life-enhancing products. No longer are there justifications for aiding "new fifty" seniors. This book is a thoroughgoing repudiation of such imaginings. Perpetual youthfulness has not suddenly come to be. The reality, that the author carefully and at great length shows, is that the vast majority of elderly people are beset by intractable health and financial difficulties. Distorting the realities of aging justifies the inadequate responses of the US social, economic, and political systems in addressing the needs, conditions, and policies surrounding the elderly. Of course, the myths of aging would have little currency without the marketing arms of pharmaceutical and other beneficiary companies relentlessly bombarding the public.
There is a grain truth to the impression that many elderly people lead enhanced lives. The author does not deny that a great number of people do lead very active, contented, healthy lives well into their eighties and beyond. Except for the few genetically lucky, the dark little secret is that class standing has much to do with that. Those of upper middle-class standing with professional or semi-professional occupations, that provide high salaries, independence, and non-strenuous work, have the extra income and/or retirement savings to receive the best of treatments and medicines, not to mention a demand for their services well beyond typical retirement age. That is not the reality for the vast majority of the elderly, which consists most typically of single females barely surviving on a monthly social security check.
One of the biggest myths that the author takes on is the one holding that we as a society venerate the old. That is a definite, even cynical, overstatement, including the nostalgic idea that families were the primary caregivers for the elderly. It is the rare individual who was or is cared for in a multi-generational household. The cold fact is that in America the old are invariably shunted aside to fend for themselves on what meager resources they may have. The lie that the wisdom of the elderly is valued is readily seen in the rampant age discrimination practiced in American places of employment. For a variety of reasons: obsolescence, slowing down, too high wages, increased medical costs, except for the most exceptional or highest level of jobs, older workers are shed for the younger. Of course, the same forces are at work when older workers apply for jobs. In no way does the author contend that mental capability does not deteriorate with old age, especially for those over eighty. In fact, the possible onset of dementia may be the biggest fear of the elderly. But that is not an argument for discriminating against those with many good working years remaining.
The harsh reality is that probably a majority of older retirees simply do not have the resources to meet all basic needs, let alone being able to fund an adventurous life style. And as the author suggests those numbers are going to increase. Those who worked in large corporations in the three post-WWII decades did well economically, many being covered by retirement plans. Since then, many more workers are having their earning years shortened, as well as retirement plans and benefits slashed. Given such relentless forces, it is doubly cynical to suggest that the impoverished elderly have only themselves to blame. Few people regardless of age can transcend powerful economic forces that prevail in a society.
America has not always been so callous towards the elderly. As the author points out, the first widespread payment of pensions was directed to Civil War veterans. The passage of Social Security in the New Deal was an acknowledgement that economic forces often left the elderly in dire circumstances. But social Darwinist thinking has returned with a vengeance. How convenient that those who have made it economically - in their eyes, the survival of the fittest - are now the poster examples of the newly, forever young. They deserve their new healthy status, jetting off to ski resorts, leaving the "undeserving" behind. That is the thinking with which those with a sense of community responsibility must contend: the elderly who are poor and/or in bad health equally "deserve" their situation.
As the author shows, those promoting this new fountain of youth have no qualms in presenting a fantastical picture of the "new-young." Who hasn't seen in various media the well-tanned, tight-skinned couple, obviously no more than fifty, with perfectly cut, silvered hair luxuriating in retirement? It could be on a first-rate golf course, or perhaps it is around home ready to respond "when the time is right" with the aid of pharmaceuticals. The fact is that such idylls have no relevance to what life is like for most over-eighty seniors. Where, in the advertisements, is the small, totally gray-haired lady, her body bent with osteoporosis, who lives in a one-room apartment and is definitely not waiting "for the right moment"? Such exaggerations are not harmless. When real lives are hidden under an avalanche of distortion, how can needed support from younger people or the political system be obtained? In fact, according to the author, such marketing gives credence to the contention that the elderly are "rich old geezers." If that were true, perhaps Social Security and Medicare should be cut back. The reality is that for most elderly people, those programs provide the only lifeline that they have.
The book is most definitely not a "how to" book on overcoming aging. It is a densely packed, slow reading thorough examination of convenient, opportunistic myths about aging. The book would perhaps have more appeal to a broader audience if it were shortened; the author discusses far more than what this review suggests. Indirectly, the book could be helpful to those approaching or in old age. It is far easier to counter pressures, demands, and expectations when the misinformation and deliberate distortions on which they are based are brought out in the open. One of the more pernicious demands placed on the elderly is that they should be happy, cheerful, and optimistic. Complaints of infirmities or being cantankerous violate the simplistic concept that old age is some sort of tranquil, golden period in life, a notion that simply does not comport with the realities of being old in America.
In the author's sobering words,
For too many Americans, old age - especially advanced old age - means a sharp and unwanted transition from a sense of themselves as people valued by family and community to a diminished sense of themselves as burdens who serve no purpose. It is a shift from active to passive, from being a caretaker to being a care recipient, from independence to dependence, and it is experienced as a personal loss at the deepest level, regardless of outer circumstances. This unwanted transition can be delayed but not denied, unless one dies in vigorous young old age [before eighty], in full command of one's life.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2011
This a wake up call for all Baby Boomers who think that growing old (not older) is a state of mind and a reality that they won't have to face. This is a world of financial disadvantage, physical deterioration, and lonliness. There is not a cure for aging, how could there be, aging is not a disease. No self help guru is going to pump up your resolve to defy the ravages to your health and income that life in your 80's & 90's could bring if you live that long.
I have worked in the long term care field for many years and cared for a family member who had Alzheimer's and I can tell you that this book is not an exaggeration of reality but reality it's self.
Susan Jacoby focuses her considerable intellect on the problems facing Baby Boomers and has written a book that should be on the reading list of every Boomer.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2011
I did not find this book as depressing as I expected to. Perhaps that is because I'm
still in reasonably good health and can at least tell myself that I can look forward to a
reasonable number on "good" years.
That's the emotional, and personal side. But, on the the practical side, Jacoby's book
has implications to policy decisions that have serious consequences in our society. This
is as much a book about public policy, specifically health care policy, as it is about old
The myths and illusions that Jacoby attacks, have practical consequences, for example: (1)
As a counter to government deficits, we are considering cost saving actions such as
reduced assistance to the elderly and the sick and increasing the age for eligibility for
Social Security benefits. (2) To prevent the financial crash of 2008 from becoming a
truly catastrophic crisis, our government has driven interest rates so low that those of
us who were fortunate enough be be able to save for old age get almost no earnings from
our savings. (That, by the way, is a huge transfer of wealth away from those with savings
to those in the financial industry.)
These policies, Jacoby argues, are made to seem reasonable by the overly optimistic
beliefs and illusions that most all of us will have an old age in which we can work and
take care of ourselves and be financial self-reliant. These beliefs are wrong, and the
consequences of policies based on them are bound to be both significant and disastrous,
especially since the Baby Boom generation will be causing a expansion of the size of the
elderly cohort in population in the U.S.
Jacoby's specialty is to take on and puncture irrational thinking and foolish idea. Her
previous book, "The age of American unreason", was a bit of an equal opportunity lambaste
that targeted foolishness on a range of topics. This book ("Never say die") is more
focused and specific to our thoughts and feelings about old age. If you want to improve
your abilities in the way of critical thinking, Jacoby's reasoning is an excellent example
Financial reality -- Jacoby works hard to destroy our myths and delusions about finances
in old age: (1) In contrast to our beliefs, most of us in the U.S. cannot or will not save
enough during our working lives to support our retirement. Jacoby asks: Would you even
*want* parents to say to their children that there is no money for college tuition and
expenses because they (the parents) are saving for retirement? (2) Many if not most
Americans enter retirement with very little in the way or savings. (3) That means that
many in the early years of retirement need to work in order to support themselves. (4)
But, there are few jobs available for many of these in the early retirement years, and if
the elderly do find work, they are actually taking jobs away from younger workers. We
have a job shortage even without sending the elderly back into to workforce. (5) Social
Security benefits alone are not enough to support an acceptable life, and we are talking
about cutting that back even more. (6) We have a drastic reduction in the number of
workers who are and will be covered by defined-benefit retirement plans, those who are are
covered by defined-benefit plans are having their benefits cut, and those who have
attempted to provide for themselves, e.g. through 401K investment plans and the like, have
seen those savings and investments trashed severely by the recent financial crash. (7)
We, in the U.S. and our representatives in Washington, D.C. do not have the political will
face the reality and costs of caring for the elderly. And, even if we did, we likely
would not be willing to tax ourselves to pay for that care and support. The U.S. is a
hard, mean society that is not willing to take care of those who are unable to take care
Part of our problem is that we all want instant gratification and lower taxes. We do not
want enforced savings (for example, Social Security taxes) and we are not able or willing
to save for ourselves.
If we are to move toward medical care for everyone, it should be baby-boom generation who
lead the way and do the pushing. But, health care for everyone is likely to mean less for
some, in particular, the elderly may see a reduction in their Medicare benefits. Rather
than lead us toward a united effort at reform of health care in the U.S., that is likely
to lead us to an inter-generational conflict, according to Jacoby, as seniors refuse to
give up what they already have. Instead, we are likely to see a tendency toward "I've got
mine; don't try to take it away in order to pay for yours" mentality.
Moral questions -- Should we be trying so hard to extend life, if we are not willing to
pay for the support and care for those whose lives are being extended. And, if those in
old age deserve support and care, if that is a human right for the elderly, why not for
everybody? Certainly for children. And, do the non-elderly who cannot find a job with
medical benefits *not* deserve care?
We, in the U.S., are proving the inadequacy of solutions based on individual will,
responsibility, and action. For example, we cannot count on individuals in general to
save enough to provide for their retirement expenses and their medical care, especially
medical care during the very last years of life, which are likely to be high. And, a
belief in these myths of individual solutions and individual independence for health care
leaves us unable to confront these issues and to support the policies we need as
In the last chapters of this book, Jacoby shows herself to be a liberal who is
sympathetic, even envious, of European and Canadian social solutions to medical care
problems. Her arguments are the kind intelligent discussion that we should have had
during the recent efforts to pass health care reform.
Jacoby is hopeful that we in the U.S. will face reality when conditions for many of us
become bad enough. I'm skeptical that we will do that. I worry that conditions will need
to become unbearably terrible before we do. And, I believe that the wealthy in the U.S.
have the political power to block reform.
This is not a cheerful book. But, it has the value of encouraging us to think about these
issues in a clear and un-illusioned way. We and our elders can expect a lot of grief and
unpleasantness if we fail to do so.