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

Death is coming: How shall we live? As of publication, author Barbara Ehrenreich (Living with a Wild God) is 76, old enough to have plenty of personal experience with aging and with contemplating her demise. In addition, her Ph.D. in cellular immunology, her understanding of socioeconomic divides and her experience with a breast cancer diagnosis give her educated insights into the science of disease and aging, and fanatic beliefs in the power of diet, fitness and positive thinking. Natural Causes is her critical diatribe against the popular notion that we can control when and how we die.

With dry humor and plenty of scientific endnotes, Ehrenreich examines the poor science and status-seeking behind many fashionable wellness practices, including "ritual" and "humiliating" medical screenings. Exercise can increase our enjoyment of life, but it can also tip over into "another form of conspicuous consumption," as can the new craze for "mass-market mindfulness." Against the idea that we can perfect our minds and bodies, she sets the self-sabotage of our immune systems, illustrated by autoimmune diseases, our reproductive cycles and how our macrophages promote the growth and metastasis of cancer. Moreover, on the fear of mortality, she asks whether, given the facts, it makes more sense to regard death as a "tragic interruption" of one's life, or to see life "as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and seize it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us." --Sara Catterall

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