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The Thing About Life is That One Day You'll Be Dead [Kindle Edition]

David Shields
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.95
Kindle Price: $9.97
You Save: $5.98 (37%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Mesmerized and somewhat unnerved by his 97-year-old father's vitality and optimism, David Shields undertakes an original investigation of our flesh-and-blood existence, our mortal being.Weaving together personal anecdote, biological fact, philosophical doubt, cultural criticism, and the wisdom of an eclectic range of writers and thinkers—from Lucretius to Woody Allen—Shields expertly renders both a hilarious family portrait and a truly resonant meditation on mortality.The Thing About Life provokes us to contemplate the brevity and radiance of our own sojourn on earth and challenges us to rearrange our thinking in crucial and unexpected ways.


From the Trade Paperback edition.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Significant Seven, February 2008: "After you turn 7, your risk of dying doubles every eight years." By your 80s, you "no longer even have a distinctive odor ... You're vanishing." "The brain of a 90-year-old is the same size as that of a 3-year-old." And it goes on and on. David Shields's litany of decay and decrepitude might have overwhelmed the age-sensitive reader (like this one), but The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead manages to transcend the maudlin by melding personal history with frank biological data about every stage of life, creating an "autobiography about my body" that seeks meaning in death, but moreover, life. Shields filters his frank--and usually foreboding--data through his own experience as a 51-year-old father with burgeoning back pain, contrasting his own gloomy tendencies with the defiant perspective of his own 97-year-old father, a man who has waged a lifelong, urgent battle against the infirmities of time. (If believed, his love life at age 70 was truly marvelous.) Interwoven with observations of philosophers from Cicero and Sophocles to Lauren Bacall and Woody Allen ("I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying."), Shields's book is a surprisingly moving and life-affirming embrace of the human condition, where inevitable failures and frailties become "thrilling" and "liberating," rather than dour portents of The End. --Jon Foro



Amazon.com Guest Review: Danielle Trussoni
David Shields's The Thing About Life is that One Day You’ll Be Dead is an addictively punchy, startlingly brilliant exploration of our most essential relationship--the one between parent and child. Shields juxtaposes a storm of astonishing facts about the development of the human body ("By the time you're 5, your head has attained 90 percent of its mature size; by 7, your brain reaches 90 percent of its maximum weight; by 9, 95 percent; during adolescence, 100 percent") with an intimate portrait of himself as a son and father. The result is a naked, honest, and often funny book that forces one to look clearly at the realities of the body--especially the burden that biology imposes upon our inner life--in a fresh and disturbing way. The writing is fast, postmodern, and filled with quotations from such diverse sources as Shields's back doctor and Tolstoy. The style might be dizzying in the hands of a less perceptive narrator, but Shields has the eye of an archeologist cataloging the bizarre traits of an ancient civilization. How Shields managed to compress the whole mess of love, family, genetics, and desire into this elegant, elemental book is a wonder. --Danielle Trussoni, author of Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir


From Publishers Weekly

Inspired by the immense vitality of his 90-something father, author Shields (Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine) looks at the arc of a human life in order to come to terms with mortality. Organized into four stages of life-infancy and childhood, adolescence, adulthood and middle age, old age and death-Shields's short, snappy chapters are crafted from personal anecdotes (many featuring his wife and teenage daughter), literary-philosophical musing and enlightening scientific data, examining a wide range of human concerns relating to "the beauty and pathos in my body and his body and everybody else's body as well." Shields also visits historical and contemporary figures, from Sigmund Freud to John Ruskin and Woody Allen, for their thoughts on mortality; says Picasso, "One starts to get young at the age of sixty, and then it's too late." Shield's eclectic approach and personal voice makes this extended meditation on living and dying a pleasing and occasionally profound read.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 287 KB
  • Print Length: 257 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307268047
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0013SSPXC
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,085 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
109 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A much needed addition February 10, 2008
Format:Hardcover
As a doctor for the very old, I'm often asked for recommendations of books which consider the critical questions about life, aging, and death. While there are great works of literature which address this topic and standard non-fiction books about death or older adults, this is the first book which examines the topic start to finish, providing a great story, scientific and social science data, and the wisdom of hundreds from the ancient greeks to current pop artists. The books structure, with its weave of memoir, fact, and quotes, reflects how we experience and consider these topics. And as any book on this subject should, it doesn't preach but gives the reader the tools and inspiration to think about these important issues for him or herself.
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138 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Griping Against The Grim Reaper February 5, 2008
Format:Hardcover
David Shields is miffed. His adolescent daughter is a soccer prodigy, romping on the pitch with nary an ache or pain. His father steams towards 100, still vital and prickly in a Catskills stud kind of way. Shields himself is fifty and feels every one of his years. Hangovers are no longer physical but metaphysical, his back is shot and he's developed an obsession with death.

But it's the obsession of a man who, for all his gripes, is engaged in life. Death is a shark out there hovering. But until you put the blood in the water, the shark stays put.

Shields offers alternating chapters of objective data on the body's demise and famous commentary on The Big Sleep with subjective epigrams of pique and pathos. Shields laments but never mopes. He is in awe (and peevishly envious) of his father who somehow has figured out the cosmic joke of existence yet never pauses long enough to let the realization that the joke is on us get him down.

This is a great book, subversive in its brevity and ferocity. A communique of rabbit punches.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book! February 6, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are some lofty topics that writers--for good reason--hesitate to take on: the meaning of life, the nature of love, what women want, and the pesky issue of mortality are a few that top the list. In a filmed interview, the usually undaunted Jacques Derrida balked when asked, "What is love?" And while he eventually rallied when reminded that all the Greek philosophers spoke of the nature of love (no self-respecting philosopher could ignore that throwing down of the glove), his resistance reminded me that even intellectual heavyweights want to shrug off the tough work of tackling The Big Questions.

The Thing about Life is That One Day You'll be Dead is a bold book that explores this odd duality that exists in each of us: we know we'll die--one day--but we're also quite sure this won't happen to us, somehow we'll be the exception. Reading Shields' book, I became aware that this belief of immortality informs everything we do--toe tapping in line in the grocery store, mindless TV watching, cursing the rain--all speak of our subterranean certainty that we'll be around till the end of time. It's a quirky book, almost outrageous in its structure that follows the decline of the human body, and one well worth reading. And no, it's not depressing; Shields is as funny as he is insightful.
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99 of 125 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed in Seattle February 8, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In a sense, this book is a testament to a son's love of his father and probes the father son relationship in an honest, raw and loving way. However, I'm disappointed that the exploration of the life-death paradigm did not explore the core issues, including the real depth of the father son struggle. Unfortunately, this book often becomes self indulgent and passionless in its cool descriptions and lonely anecdotes. It is sprinkled with a collection of interesting but haphazard quotes about life, human biology and death that never coalesce into a grander vision of existence. I'm left with the question, why should I care about Mr. Shields and his father? Why it is necessary for Mr. Shields to tell us about his pernicious acne, bad back, and the size of his erect penis? We learn little about his wife and daughter and are unclear about how his father fits in with the rest of the family. Or, is the point that the father never did embrace the son's family? Ultimately, the salient points could have easily been made in essay form. The book is unsatisfying and I'm left out in the cold wind of a Seattle winter's day.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Keeper February 5, 2008
Format:Hardcover
Shields' new book, The Thing About Life is that One Day You'll Be Dead, is like a mirror: it will look different for every reader. I am not quite middle-aged, and the book gave me a jolt I appreciated: "Get up and live!" Thinking of them often as I read, I had to wonder what it might be like for my 20-something siblings or 50-year-old parents or 60-year-old in-laws or 90-year-old grandparents to read the book. Different, certainly, than it was for me. The book is such a powerful arrangement of narrative, thought, and data that I hesitated, out of deference to the taboo on suggesting that humans die, to send my family copies. But I had to. And I know they will not be able to put the book down, because reading The Thing About Life... feels like watching a train wreck and a beautiful birth at the same time.

I'm picky about the books I open. I'm even more picky about the books I finish. I find that my interest in many nonfiction books (the only kind I read these days) tends to peter out a third of the way through. The Thing About Life..., though, compelled me to the last page--as if I couldn't imagine how it would end. A page-turner of an essay--what a feat. This book is wiser and richer than Mary Roach's Stiff; it invites the reader to peer inside and get reacquainted with the body and soul staring back.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Did not like.
Published 11 hours ago by E. Aiken
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating. Statistically mind boggling.
The references to his father were particularly meaningful and endearing. We'll written and we'll worth reading for people of all ages.
Published 24 days ago by Raphael Engle
5.0 out of 5 stars David Shields
David Shields is fast becoming one of my favorites, i loved the book and love amazon for affordably and quickly gettimg me books that i love, by the way I LOVE BOOKS. Lilly
Published 2 months ago by lilly killbear
4.0 out of 5 stars fun and informative
This was a fun read. David is an excellent writer, he held my interest well.
A lot of factual tidbits of what our bodies are going through over the years were mixed in with... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Momach
1.0 out of 5 stars Phone In
Wikipedia meets memoir. It reads like Shields told some grad students to research aging on Wikipedia and he cobbled together the "facts" with a semi-interesting story about a... Read more
Published 9 months ago by D. Ehrich
5.0 out of 5 stars The thing about life
The Thing About Life Is One Day You'll Be Dead by David Shields is an amazing book. It just puts everything into perspective. I gave it to my nearest and dearest. Read more
Published 12 months ago by ricardonna
3.0 out of 5 stars Not everyone ages the same...
Throughout the chapters I kept getting the feeling the author is talking about the decaying of the avg citizen. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
When people ask me, "What do people mean when they talk about personal essay?" I can do no better than refer them to this book. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Debnance at Readerbuzz
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't do it!
This book is below bad. I have wasted $ before; but, never this badly. A true waste of time. BELIEVE the other poor reviews.
Published 17 months ago by Tom Roth
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched and Well Written
David Shields' entertaining memoir is both entertaining and thought provoking. He gives new meaning to "the facts of life." His style is pleasant to read.
Published 17 months ago by T. L. Jones
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More About the Author

David Shields is the New York Times bestselling author of sixteen books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications); The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead; Black Planet (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award); How Literature Saved My Life, and Remote, winner of the PEN/Revson Award. He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle, where he is the Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

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The Thing About Life is That One Day You'll Be Dead
I read the book cover to cover, at times struggling to get through portions I felt were overly self-indulgent. I struggled to truly care about the author, his father and their relationship. I'm impressed in reading the reviews on Amazon that 40 individuals gave the book the highest rating--five... Read More
Feb 11, 2008 by Dennis S. Wulkan |  See all 4 posts
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