As revelatory as Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, physician and award-winning author Louise Aronson's Elderhood is an essential, empathetic look at a vital but often disparaged stage of life.
For more than 5,000 years, "old" has been defined as beginning between the ages of 60 and 70. That means most people alive today will spend more years in elderhood than in childhood, and many will be elders for 40 years or more. Yet at the very moment that humans are living longer than ever before, we've made old age into a disease, a condition to be dreaded, denigrated, neglected, and denied.
Reminiscent of Oliver Sacks, noted Harvard-trained geriatrician Louise Aronson uses stories from her quarter century of caring for patients, and draws from history, science, literature, popular culture, and her own life to weave a vision of old age that's neither nightmare nor utopian fantasy--a vision full of joy, wonder, frustration, outrage, and hope about aging, medicine, and humanity itself.
Elderhood is for anyone who is, in the author's own words, "an aging, i.e., still-breathing human being."
Louise Aronson, MD, is the author of A History of the Present Illness and is a geriatrician, educator, and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she directs UCSF Health Humanities. A graduate of Harvard Medical School and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, Dr. Aronson has received the Gold Professorship in Humanism, the California Homecare Physician of the Year Award, and the American Geriatrics Society Clinician-Teacher of the Year Award, as well as numerous awards for her teaching, educational research, and writing. The recipient of a MacDowell fellowship and four Pushcart nominations, her articles and stories have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, and Bellevue Literary Review. She lives in San Francisco.
"[A] penetrating meditation on geriatrics . . . Aronson's deep empathy, hard-won knowledge, and vivid reportage makes for one of the best accounts around of the medical mistreatment of the old." --Publishers Weekly, starred review
"An examination of aging and the human condition encompassing poignant stories and the viewpoints of medical experts, writers, historians, and scientists . . . Empathetic, probing, and often emotionally moving narratives on appreciating the power and the pain of aging." --Kirkus, starred review
"Aronson's Elderhood is dazzling, rich with knowledge gleaned from her professional work as a geriatrician, her personal experience as a daughter, her common sense, and her thorough analysis of our social supports and cultural messaging. Her arguments are powerful, and her conclusions are revolutionary. I hope everyone who has a stake in older people, which is ultimately all of us, will read this book." --Mary Pipher, author of WOMEN ROWING NORTH
"In the latter years there are possibilities for joy, transcendence, and meaning, but also for just the opposite. Aronson writes like a memoirist while giving us scientific insight, philosophical wisdom, and wise counsel for a journey and destination we all share. Elderhood is a lovely and thoughtful exploration of this voyage." --Abraham Verghese, author of CUTTING FOR STONE
"In Elderhood, the physician-writer Louise Aronson provides an honest and humane analysis of what it means to grow old in America. Her book--part memoir, history, and social critique--is deeply sympathetic to elders and sharply critical of the "anti-aging industry" that has tried to turn being elderly into some sort of disease. I highly recommend this wonderful book to anyone who plans on growing old in this country." --Sandeep Jauhar, author of HEART: A HISTORY
"As Louise Aronson says, 'Life offers just two possibilities: die young or grow old.' This searing, luminous book is for everyone who hopes to accomplish the latter and remain fully human as they do. It will challenge your assumptions and open your mind--and it just might change your life." --Lucy Kalanithi, MD, editor of WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR
"In Elderhood, Louise Aronson draws on the experiences of her own life and the many lives she has touched as a geriatrician to think about age and aging, combining the insights of science and medicine with the wisdom of literature and human history, all narrated with the practical realism of the caring clinician. It's a wise and beautiful book, to be cherished by anyone who hopes to keep on growing, aging, and learning." --Perri Klass, MD
"The book that every one of us has been or will be looking for--a passionate, illuminating, brilliant, and beautifully written meditation on aging and caring for elders, Elderhood is a godsend." --Pauline Chen, MD, author of FINAL EXAM
"An intimate look into how the aging process affects real lives and a non-didactic take on the importance of health care." --San Francisco Chronicle on A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS
"Dr. Aronson writes lovely, nuanced description." --The New York Times on A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS
"The ethical dilemmas that abound in medicine are prominent but never swamp the stories: these are tales about people, as insightfulas Lorrie Moore or Alice Munro." --The Independent on A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS
"A fascinating study of our fragile human condition, both physical and emotional. Here is a writer-and a doctor-whose empathy . . . springs forth on every page." --Peter Orner on A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS
"If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of the sick and the wounded--not on television or in movies but really--then this is the book for you. Compassionate and even anguished . . . It it has the palette and the ring of truth." --Victoria Sweet, author of GOD'S HOTEL, on A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS
"Invites us to bear witness as people--with very little fanfare, but with a profound sense of truth--to come to terms with what it really means to be a flawed, sick human being in a flawed, sick world." --Chris Adrian, M.D., author of THE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL on A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS
"A History of the Present Illness is a collection of stories about doctors and their patients, and about the chronic and presenting situations that bring them to crisis. Eudora Welty described the work of another physician/story writer by saying that 'Chekhov's candor was exploratory and painstaking -- he might have used it as the doctor in him would know how, treating the need for truth between human beings as an emergency, ' words that seem to me to also apply here. Aronson's quest, too, is for that truth." --Antonya Nelson, author of BOUND, on A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS
"Aronson's examination of medical culture in stories, of the brutality and tenderness at home and hospital, is a gem. [Her] voice is tender and one from which I hope we'll hear more histories in the future." --Washington Independent Review of Books on A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS
"Aronson effectively illustrates just how jumbled life can be. Hope is limping barely one step ahead of sadness. Human devotion and division, responsibility to self and others are only a smidgen of the subject matter examined by talented and knowledgeable Aronson." --Booklist on A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS