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Why Survive?: Being Old in America Paperback – November 26, 2002

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Editorial Reviews


Butler questions the value of long life for its own sake; modern medicine, he says, has ironically created 'a huge group of people for whom survival is possible but satisfaction in living elusive.' He proposes sweeping policy reforms to redefine and restructure the institutions responsible for what he calls 'the tragedy of old age in America.'.

(New York Times Book Review)

This book admirably reviews the panoply of ugly social facts which add up to 'ageism' (a term Butler coined, meaning prejudice against old persons). In such areas as housing, Social Security, inflation, nursing homes, and medical care, Butler reports pervasive private despair and public neglect.. [and] calls for a 'national policy on aging' which would encompass more and better health care, nutrition, transportation, and public service information.

(Library Journal)

Everyone should read this book... suitable for use in high school as well as medical school, and for readers of every age.

(Journal of the American Medical Association)

The best and best informed exposé to appear so far... every American of every age should read this book.

(Alex Comfort)

Crammed with facts that explode old myths.

(Boston Globe)

Eloquent, exhaustive, and formidably informed... A mandatory book.

(Kirkus Reviews)

Heavily documented, highly readable... jammed with recommendations for constructive change in every area.


The Encyclopedia Britannica of American aging.


Important, fact-filled, compassionate, and insightful.

(Judd Marmor, M.D., former president, American Psychiatric Association)

I commend it for clarity and lucidity, unpretentiousness and comprehensiveness... I think it is a classic.

(Karl Menninger M.D.)

About the Author

Robert N. Butler, M.D., is president and chief executive officer of the International Longevity Center–USA and professor of geriatrics at the Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. From 1975 to 1982 he was the founding director of the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. In 1982 he founded the first department of geriatrics in a U.S. medical school. In 1976 Butler won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Why Survive?: Being Old in America. He is co-author (with Dr. Myrna I. Lewis) of the books Aging and Mental Health and Love and Sex After 60. He is presently working on a book, The Longevity Revolution.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (November 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801874254
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801874253
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Carla Libby Gentry on April 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
Although this book was written in 1975 and some material in the second half of the book is a bit dated, this book is foundational to understanding the complexities of aging in the United States. Dr. Butler does an excellent job of presenting the history of aging policies and their impact on our aging population. This book should be required reading for any serious student of gerontology and those who work with aging persons and aging policy.

Dr. Butler may be a physician, but this book does not read like a medical text book. It is full of useful statistics and details regarding social policy, psychology, sociology and even spirituality. Because of the depth and breadth of how Dr. Butler presents the issues that impact persons who are aging and their families and our society at large, this book is a goldmine of information. After reading this book, I came away with the thought "the more things change, the more things stay the same." Dr. Butler makes suggestions on how to improve life and living for our elders, some of these ideas still need to be implimented. I think it is one of the best books I've read in the field of gerontology from the standpoint of providing a foundational background in the field and historical content.
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Format: Paperback
This book was written in 1975.In it Butler emphasizes the raw deal lots of elderly Americans were getting at the time. He speaks about Poverty and the inadequacy of Social Security, problems of work, of sickness, of social isolation in Old Age. He writes about discriminatory attitudes towards the elderly. He writes about misconceptions regarding infirmity and the great majority of the elderly. He addresses the way the elderly are stigmatized by the medical and psychiatric professions.

He is essentially an advocate, a very informed and sympathetic one for the elderly. The book opens with his relating the story of how he was raised by his grandparents and how their devotion kept him going as a young child.

It is thirty years since the book was written, and my guess is that there has been considerable improvement in certain areas of the lives of the elderly. I would guess that Poverty is not as prevalent as it was thirty years ago. I also believe that there has been an improvement in institutional care for the healthy. 'Ageism' which is a term Butler coined is of course still a reality, but there are also organizations and groups which defend the interests of the elderly.

Butler speaks wisely about maintaining health and interest in life in old age. His concluding remarks have to do with making our lives 'works of art'.

This is a fine book written by a very decent and skillful student of the problems of Aging in America.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bdogz on October 22, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book may have been a Pulitzer prize winner in the 70's however, in order for the book to be relevant it needs to be updated and reproduced. Due to its heavy reliance on data and statistics perhaps a colleague or student of the late Dr. Butler could take on the task and update his work. The other issue I had is the book is written in small font with very little white space on the pages making it hard to read. Gerontology will be a significantly important field as the baby boomers come of age. he need for their knowledge and special skills will be necessary to help society navigate its way through the next few decades. The material in this book could be a useful tool for educators in the field of Gerontology.
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