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You won’t find the answer here
on November 4, 2015
I have no relationship with the author or his subject. Like many previous reviewers, I was interested in an overview of current scientific research into healthy aging. The author is a journalist who writes in an engaging, contemporary style. The problem is, many aspects of his approach are so unscientific that it undermines the credibility of even the wobbly conclusions he tries to make.
This extends to the fundamental premise of the book as expressed in the subtitle. What can we generalize from a lady track athlete that is so old that she literally has no competitors? As one geneticist is even quoted as saying, nothing! A basic principle of medical research is that trying to explain something after the fact, with a small sample size, is a recipe for misdirection. In this case, we are supposed to learn from a sample of one, with a very basic piece of information unvalidated: Olga doesn’t actually have a birth certificate! This reminded me of the historical hoax of the health secrets of Russian centenarians. As if to highlight the futility of his approach, the author expresses confusion over the contradictory health advice of other leading senior athletes.
Olga aside, the book could still have worked as a summary of present evidence regarding various lifestyle choices. But this always seems to be reduced to a glib minimum. There are no citations or endnotes. The bibliography of less than three pages consists largely of lay publications.
Throwing journalistic objectivity out the window, the author clearly forms a relationship with his subject over the course of several years. There is touching insight into how this may be his way of addressing the premature death of his father, but that should have been a completely different kind of book. Subject and author dine, go to track meets and even attend medical tests together. Strangely, considering the explicit mention of the importance of social ties in longevity, Olga’s own family remains largely voiceless. This is all the more striking considering that she lives in her daughter’s basement! Perhaps this omission has something to do with the fact that she has already written her own story elsewhere. To me, it just seemed creepy.
For a more objective attempt at reviewing the science of longevity, consider Spring Chicken by Bill Gifford. For a more light-hearted, well written treatment of the same subject, you may enjoy Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs.