Journalist Investigates the Science of Aging

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Spring Chicken (Feburary 2015) written by investigative journalist Bill Gifford is a book about the far reaches of aging, culled from the latest science has to offer. Gifford goes to lengths to debunk the most prevalent myths surrounding the aging process by interviewing prominent scientific figures, all while attempting to answer the age-old questions: How can we live longer, and better?
 
Although parts of Spring Chicken were interesting, I didn’t much care for it. Gifford lacks the humor of an AJ Jacobs, the usefulness of a Michael Pollan, and the laser wit of a Mary Roach. It is a shame because these traits help scientific writing go down a little easier.
 
This book is chock-full of research, but Gifford sets a tone of irresponsibility from the start by telling stories of his grandfather and his uncle, brothers who aged quite differently on the surface. It is obvious that Gifford’s strong biases come into play when he wrote that his uncle’s Christian Science beliefs, which precluded him from almost ever visiting a doctor and rejecting all that medical science has to offer, are what ultimately led to his demise (though he did manage to live until the age of seventy-four). It is never clear to the reader whether or not his assumptions were accurate or if he simply did not care much for his uncle. The problem is his story doesn’t belong in a book that is based on scientific research and accurate reporting. Why didn’t Gifford just save the stories for his blog?
 
That aside, there is plenty of thought-provoking scientific research discussed in this book. I found his musings about drugs such as rapamycin, resveratrol, and human growth hormone interesting. Also, some of the theories he introduces are worth bearing out, such as the one on antioxidant supplementation blunting our immune response.
 
However, I did not get a sense of contribution from all of his anti-aging research and claims. Rather than using research to inform the reader about how to improve their life, Gifford simply states the best that science has to offer us right now may well be “use it or lose it” (298). You don’t need the book to figure this out.
 
Of all Gifford’s assertions, perhaps his most troublesome statement is that “immune aging is why older people should get flu vaccines” (293). In actuality, this may not be true. There is strong scientific evidence opposing his statement yet Gifford offers no references to back up his claim. I feel strongly that if an author is writing about science (particularly a controversial topic such as vaccines), he should provide the necessary citations where applicable.
 
Lastly, the reader is continually subjected to Gifford’s fears and misgivings along with his own baggage in regard to his aging self. His tone lacks hope or much optimism on getting older. Not that hope was ever promised but I would prefer to read the straight science than have it culled into this somewhat depressing and unfocused read. For those who are interested in what the latest research in aging has to offer, this book may be of interest but if you do not harbor a healthy mind set towards the aging process, you may want to skip it.
 
Reviewed by Maria Ryan
two-half-stars

About Libby

Libby started with Author Exposure as the book review editor and has evolved into the AE site editor. She was the creator and interviewer for the What's Next feature and still manages to squeeze in reviews of her own.

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