Natural Causes

Natural Causes

An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

Book - 2018
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A New York Times bestseller!
From the celebrated author of Nickel and Dimed , Barbara Ehrenreich explores how we are killing ourselves to live longer, not better.

A razor-sharp polemic which offers an entirely new understanding of our bodies, ourselves, and our place in the universe, NATURAL CAUSES describes how we over-prepare 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 anti-aging 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.

Publisher: New York : Twelve, 2018.
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9781455535910
Branch Call Number: 306.9 EHRENREI
Characteristics: xv, 234 pages ; 22 cm


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JessicaGma Jan 30, 2019

There were some great points in this about living and dying, but I did not enjoy this as much as Brightsided. For ever good idea here, there were a few half baked ones. Some of the chapters needed a little more fact over opinion. Not bad, but you'll get more out of "When Breath Becomes Air" or "Being Mortal"

Dec 11, 2018

I found this to be a remarkable book and hope to read it again someday. It is a calm and clear look into living and dying. Her thoughts are backed by science and her sense of humor is enjoyable. She tackles a topic we all think about and I am grateful for the book.

IndyPL_SueK Oct 23, 2018

I found it difficult to determine her point of view.

Sep 19, 2018

Ambitious to gather many hot debatable subjects in one short volume. While I’m more easily leaning to author’s side on nearly every aspect, to thread through scattered jewels of her thoughts, the side effect is lack of coherence.
I still wish more people can read and understand even if unable to transcend in this lifetime.

Aug 08, 2018

For me, this book boils down to, "whatever works for you." However, her academic knowledge and humorous style provide much food for thought. Her quirky take on things reminds me of my favorite author, Mary Roach. I will read more of Ehrenreich's stuff.

Jul 29, 2018

I was disappointed in this book. The author makes some valid points: We are all going to die someday (news flash!), no matter what we do to try to prevent it. Some of what we do in the name of “wellness” is counterproductive. For example, the 76-year-old author has decided she will not get any more mammograms or colonoscopies. She describes annual physicals as “rituals” that accomplish little, so she is giving those up too. She tells us that we have no real control over our bodies, only an illusion of control. She spends several chapters describing how microphages, that are supposed to keep us safe from disease, sometimes turn on us and help cancer cells reproduce. (I think that part of the book could have been a lot shorter, but she wanted to show off her scientific knowledge.)

She also tells us that some of us are working so hard on diet, exercise, mindfulness, and other “wellness” techniques that we are forgetting to enjoy life along the way.

OK, I get that. But what about exercising to help ourselves feel as good as possible as long as possible? How about exercising to keep our brains healthy as long as possible? How about exercising because we love moving and being able to do what we want? Isn’t it enjoyable to be able to live an active life as long as possible? Isn’t it enjoyable to be able to use our brains as we get older, instead of sliding into dementia?

Dr. Samuel Harrison made some of the same points in his book At Peace: Choosing a Good Death After a Long Life. At some point, the treatments and tests are more dangerous than the disease or potential disease. Also, if we live longer, it becomes more likely that we will have a period of disability prior to death.

Maybe I will feel differently when I am 76 or 86. For now, I will still try to take good care of the only body I have. I think it is certainly possible to enjoy life even if one is exercising and eating a reasonable diet most of the time. Should we all enjoy life? Of course! But I found this book rather tiresome. At Peace was a more useful book.

Jul 24, 2018

An interesting and valid take. I especially liked her viewpoint regarding medicine and being pregnant in the 70s. Doctors wonder why people are not trusting of all they do. The author suggests we shouldn't just have superstitious faith in these modern shaman as if they are infallible and beyond our ken.

Jul 20, 2018

The author doesn’t believe in preventative health care, doesn’t seem to like doctors and their advise, doesn’t agree with exercising or eating well...basically, just do nothing healthy and let your body kill you.

Jul 03, 2018

I expected a much deeper dive into the ways we are "killing ourselves to live longer" as promised in the title. And I expected a much deeper dive into the treatment of aging as a medical condition. Ehrenreich's book reads like a collection of essays related to aging in no particular, coherent order. A good flight or beach read.

Jun 06, 2018

Big fan of Barbara Ehrenreich! This book continues her critical thinking and scientific grounding of our medical system. Her focus this time: the medicalization of getting old. Her thesis includes a challenge of medicine's dominance when history shows medicine itself often operates for profit instead of for patients. She's a rare breed: a readable and funny academic.

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ArapahoeMaryA Oct 13, 2018

If there is a lesson here it has to do with humility. For all our vaunted intelligence and complexity, we are not the sole authors of our destinies or of anything else. You may exercise diligently, eat a medically fashionable diet, and still die of a sting from an irritated bee. You may be a slim, toned paragon of wellness, and still a macrophage within your body may decide to throw in its lot with an incipient tumor.


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