What We're Reading: "Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer" By Barbara Ehrenreich
In Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, author Barbara Ehrenreich, probably best known for Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, focuses her skeptical eye on the many, varied, and to her mind futile, steps we take to prolong our lives. Ehrenreich, who has a PhD in cellular immunology, puts her scientific background to good use as she examines and pokes holes in everything from the idea that our immune systems protect us from disease, to the concept of healthy, or successful, aging.
I found Ehrenreich’s somewhat snarky and humorous writing style appealing, especially considering her admittedly heavy topic: the inevitability of death, despite our best efforts to outrun it for as long as possible. I particularly enjoyed reading about the evolution of her decision to forego any more medical screenings, having deemed herself, at age 77 when the book was written, ‘old enough to die’.
Ehrenreich’s knack for explaining--in an entertaining, easily understood, way--the evolving theories behind various functions of our human bodies made for unexpectedly fascinating reading. For example, she traces the myriad theories for what she describes as “...a kind of arms race between the human endometrium and the human embryo/placental combination” and I found myself flipping pages with a speed I usually reserve for my favorite mystery authors.
Lest I leave you with the impression that Natural Causes is only a discourse on our frail biological bodies, Ehrenreich delves into history, sociology, poetry and finishes with a compelling look at the self and a discussion of the relatively recent research into psychedelic drugs and their positive effects on our almost universal fear of death.
For those who like to ponder things scientific and philosophical, with a side of edgy humor, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, at a slim 209 pages, is a rewarding and thought-provoking choice I heartily recommend.