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A razor-sharp polemic that offers an entirely new understanding of our bodies, ourselves, and our place in the universe, Natural Causes describes how we overprepare and worry way too much about what is inevitable. One by one, Ehrenreich topples the shibboleths that guide our attempts to live a long, healthy life - from the importance of preventive medical screenings to the concepts of wellness and mindfulness, from dietary fads to fitness culture.
But Natural Causes goes deeper - into the fundamental unreliability of our bodies and even our "mind-bodies", to use the fashionable term. Starting with the mysterious and seldom-acknowledged tendency of our own immune cells to promote deadly cancers, Ehrenreich looks into the cellular basis of aging and shows how little control we actually have over it. We tend to believe we have agency over our bodies, our minds, and even over the manner of our deaths. But the latest science shows that the microscopic subunits of our bodies make their own "decisions", and not always in our favor.
We may buy expensive antiaging products or cosmetic surgery, get preventive screenings and eat more kale, or throw ourselves into meditation and spirituality. But all these things offer only the illusion of control. How to live well, even joyously, while accepting our mortality - that is the vitally important philosophical challenge of this book.
Drawing on varied sources, from personal experience and sociological trends to pop culture and current scientific literature, Natural Causes examines the ways in which we obsess over death, our bodies, and our health. Both funny and caustic, Ehrenreich then tackles the seemingly unsolvable problem of how we might better prepare ourselves for the end - while still reveling in the lives that remain to us.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Tom Lichtenberg on 04-16-18
as an older person with cancer I appreciated many of the insights and perspectives in this book, especially it's positive sense of an animate, vibrant universe, one we are born out of and die back into, naturally
11 of 12 people found this review helpful
By Joanie C on 04-20-18
Not what I expect from this author
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I have eagerly devoured every book by Barbara Ehrenreich over the years. I think, however, she has gone off the rails with this one. The first part of the book is exactly what I expect from her: incisive, witty, authoritative take-down of the medical and "wellness" fields and how we have bought into scripts that can ultimately harm us.
The second part of the book? Well, it's not that I don't appreciate a rousing lesson in cell biology, and some of her content was fascinating, but there was just no good way to tie her information back to the book's premise. With some mental gymnastics, I think I was able to figure out the points she was trying to make about "natural causes" and macrophages, and the denouement into a philosophical discussion of "what is self?", but honestly, it felt like she was writing her literary obituary. "Here, let me sum up what I know from a lifetime of scientific work in grad school and try to apply it to the sociological observations along the way and my own medical conditions..." and it just didn't tie together.
She will always be one of my favorite authors, and her insights into our world have shaped my own worldview. This book, however, was a disappointment.
10 of 12 people found this review helpful