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110 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A much needed addition
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...
Published on February 10, 2008 by MD in CA

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99 of 125 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed in Seattle
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...
Published on February 8, 2008 by Dennis S. Wulkan


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110 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A much needed addition, February 10, 2008
By 
MD in CA (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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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139 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Griping Against The Grim Reaper, February 5, 2008
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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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book!, February 6, 2008
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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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Keeper, February 5, 2008
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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99 of 125 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed in Seattle, February 8, 2008
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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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, personal...wholly enjoyable, February 5, 2008
Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? In The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, David Shields has united a brilliant combination of lyrical narrative, factual information, and deep, personal emotion. Shields uses everything from Marx to Darwin to the enchanting (and disenchanting) measurements of science to tell the story of his elderly father. Through the subtle interweaving of passionate concern and objective observation, we see a narrator emerge that is desperately seeking closure, connection, recognition, independence. I felt the pangs of my own insecure teenage years, growing into my body, paired with the inevitable pain of a future middle-age (slowly growing out of it). Shields expertly unites both of these themes. His book, with its wonderfully personal story, pulls you close the cold, scientific realities of the decaying body push you back. In each motion, we see the author struggling to understand the emotions he has towards his father, and towards his own body. He loves it, he hates it--impartial time marches forward. These are movements that will speak to everyone.

The power of Shields' writing comes from the fact that nothing is off limits. This book was a joy to read. One finds humor in its anecdotes, despair in its data, solace in its humanity. We feel the body changing, crumbling and yet there is so much to understand of each other--our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars RICK "SHAQ" GOLDSTEIN SAYS: "A MICROSCOPIC- INTROSPECTIVE-INVESTIGATION OF BIRTH/LIFE/DEATH/FATHER & SON.", February 16, 2008
I am an insatiable, multi-topic, non-stop reader, yet this book was one of the most unique bits of storytelling that I have come upon in many years. The author David Shields and his "TRUSTY-ANECDOTE-ADDING- SIDEKICK" NINETY-SEVEN YEAR OLD FATHER MILTON, combine to take the reader on a "wacky" winding trip that travels from birth to life to death and to every place in between. I can only "attempt" to accurately describe to potential readers the writing style of the author, because this would be akin to the effort and talent required for a marksman to hit a moving target. David recites quotes from everyone from Billy Joel to French writer Paul Leautaud to Lady Astor to Indian Chief Crowfoot to Gertrude Stein to Casey Stengel. He shares his childhood stories and Milton embellishes a number of his own. And constantly intermingled throughout their personal stories are enough uncountable medical terminologies and definitions that assuredly do fill entire encyclopedias. The best way to summarize his artistic technique, would be to compare him to a jazz musician playing from his heart instead of a sheet of music during a late night jam session.

A thinly veiled warning of possible Father & Son disagreements to follow is given to the reader on the opening page of the PROLOGUE entitled: "Letter To My Father". Dave summarizes the overall stance of Father & Son: The Son seems to always be saying: "ACCEPT DEATH." The Father replies: "ACCEPT LIFE". One minute Dave is explaining that "babies are born with brains 25 percent of adult size... and that by the age of one, the brain is 75 percent of adult size"... then before you know it the "JAMMING-JAZZ-MUSICIAN-AUTHOR" is stating that "a salmons life span is significantly extended if it's castrated before its gonads develop." After a few breaths "Jamming Dave" states that Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones of the Stones, Kurt Cobain, and bluesman Robert Johnson all died at the age of 27. Since this book covers birth to death and the author is now 51 and Milt is 97 every adult reader is going to have a personal button hit or heart string tugged during different segments of the book. I'm close to Dave's age and relate to both Father and Son, being their family was originally from Brooklyn, they're Jewish, and they're lifelong Dodger fans. There was one almost magical crossroads in the story where Dave's experience completely mirrored my life and it was enhanced by a short verse of enchanting poetry from Milton which made the extra "chill" go down my spine. Dave reminisced that "from kindergarten through eighth grade all I really did was play sports, think about sports, dream about sports. I learned to read by devouring mini-bios of jock stars. I learned math by computing players' averages (and my own)." And then his Father quotes one of his favorite lines! "BACKWARD, TURN BACKWARD, O TIME, IN YOUR FLIGHT, MAKE ME A CHILD AGAIN JUST FOR TO-NIGHT!"

I can't help but think at this very moment in this book, as I also think every single day of my life, about how much I miss the best and truest friend I ever had in my life, my Dad. "THE GREATEST FATHER EVER" died 28 years ago. "IF" he was still alive today, he would be five years younger than Milton. David, here's advice straight from my heart: "STOP THINKING SO MUCH ABOUT DYING... AND THINK MORE ABOUT LIVING!"
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A labor of love, but laborious nonetheless, January 8, 2009
By 
Garth Snyder (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I have enormous respect for anyone who tackles a subject like this. It's hard enough to write anything, but writing an Important Book about Life and Death has to be one of the toughest assignments of all. So my hat is off to Mr. Shields for the attempt.

But to be honest, the book and I didn't connect. It feels strained, the product of a mind working hard to come up with a steady stream of Profound Observations. A book of this type has to seem effortless or it sinks under its own weight.

The recurring sections of "science fun facts," so beloved by other reviewers, felt distancing to me. In the final analysis, the tallies of breaths and heartbeats and physical changes really have little to do with the subjective human experience of life and death. These digressions have all the philosophical spark of a biology textbook.

The other repeated shticks -- the father, the sports, the kids -- seem adventitious as well, like a framework introduced to impose structure on an otherwise shapeless mass. As much as I enjoyed some of the individual sections, it's hard to point at any particular theme or message that the book as a whole conveys.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading Shields Writing, February 6, 2008
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T. Perry (Middlebury VT) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I'm always very impressed when I read a book that not only builds upon the tradition of what a book can be but also pushes that envelope and expands the definition. David Shields' new book is just that. I've never read a book like it and yet it is like every piece of good writing I have ever read. The prose reveals yet again his extraordinary skills as a writer and as a sensitive witness of himself and the world around him. He is particularly adept at showing how the subjective and objective worlds interpenetrate and inflect one another. His prose is at times searingly authentic, almost as if I am hearing my most honest self talking to me in some quiet corner of my brain. I found touching and frightening the way he weaves through the book the story of his relationship with his father, revealing how we are all defined by our relationships, particularly those with our parenting figures. This book is a rare treat of writing and understanding.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Matter Of Life And Death, February 6, 2008
By 
PHB (Brooklyn, NY United States) - See all my reviews
In his latest non-fiction provocation, Shields writes from the vexed perspective of mid-life on a topic most of us would just as soon avoid: death. The results are amazing. "The Thing About Life" is so much more than memoir. On one level, it's the story of the author's ongoing psychic contest with his aging father, a supernaturally robust 90-something whose reaction to a heart attack on the tennis court is to suck it up until his chance to land a winning smash. But this autobiographical material is cut with life science factoids (reminiscent of Desmond Morris) and philosophical musings (from Aristotle to Woody Allen) that kick the book into a sort of existential overdrive. A fast, funny, deep, dark and ultimately really very moving investigation of what it means to be alive.
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The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead
The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead by David Shields (Paperback - February 10, 2009)
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