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The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 5, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 109 customer reviews

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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.
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 225 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307268047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307268044
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,237,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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By B. Rough on 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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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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