From Publishers Weekly
The septuagenarian surgeon whose brutally honest demythologization of death in How We Die
garnered a National Book Award offers a mushier, platitude-filled treatise on aging, calling it a "gift" that establishes boundaries in our lives, making everything within those boundaries all the more precious. Brief, frank descriptions of droopy penises, declining hormone levels and loss of hearing and bone density are accompanied by reminders that stroke is not a normal consequence of aging and that our bodies are like cars and taking good care of parts extends their usefulness. A gushing tribute to pioneering cardiac surgeon Michael DeBakey, now aged 98, teaches the importance of knowing one's limitations and learning to function within them, while now-80-year-old actress Patricia Neal recalls how sheer stubbornness and a browbeating husband enabled her recovery from a debilitating stroke at 39. Nuland learned life lessons from two fans, a cancer survivor who understands that it's her response to adversity, and not the adversity itself, that shapes her future, and a formerly depressed octogenarian who now doesn't allow herself the "luxury" of despair. Although some of Nuland's devotees will be comforted by his hopeful if familiar advice, others seeking more of the bracing, defiant insights that made him famous will be disappointed. (Mar. 6)
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In the penultimate chapter, on wisdom, Nuland says he hopes to "avoid the great temptation of waxing ponderous." Too late. All too many of the preceding chapters are eye-rollingly boring in spots or, when they consist largely of medical and physiological data, almost throughout. At least there are no graphs; better yet, despite the subtitle, this is not a self-help tome. But Nuland is far too good a writer to give us a thoroughly dull book, and as we know from his previous best-sellers and prize winners, beginning with How We Die
(1994), when he writes about his own experiences and particular people, his is as good as narrative nonfiction gets. Two chapters are outstanding; each of them is primarily a profile of an extraordinary person. One focuses on the greatest living cardiologist, Michael DeBakey, who remains professionally and otherwise active at 98. The other profiles the brilliant English eccentric Aubrey de Grey, who has made himself a one-man explanatory and promotional army for the notion that human life is vastly extendable and that maximum longevity is every person's most important right. A couple of other chapters containing portraits of vigorous survivors of severe disease incidents (stroke, heart attack, etc.) are pretty absorbing, and all the advice on aging is sound and unfaddish, despite being tedious. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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