book reviews

DNF: Natural Causes: Life, Death and the Illusion of Control by Barbara Ehrenreich

Title: Natural Causes: Life, Death and the Illusion of Control
Author: Barbara Ehrenreich
Dates read: 18/01/22 – 23/01/22
Rating DNF

Publisher: Granta Books
Number of pages: 256
Fiction or non-fiction: non-fiction
Subject or genre: health, science

Book blurb: Bestselling 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.

How I discovered or acquired this book: It was on the recently returned shelf in Wellington library, and the title and cover appealed to me. A quick read of the blurb and I was pretty interested in what the book had to say

My thoughts I DNFed it about 30 pages in. It takes A LOT for me to DNF a book (see The Autobiography for Mr Spock which I bitched about the whole time I was reading it). It was very hostile in tone, felt very preachy in an ‘my way is clearly the only way you should do things’ kind of manner and essentially harps on that the entire medical field is a hoax, everyone in it is a greedy sadist, we shouldn’t have medical testing because that’s why all the rates are going up and hey, you’re just going to die anyway. She did raise some good points about the corporate greed of the US medical system but I was so annoyed with the way she was talking at me that I actually slammed the book shut and went ‘nope’

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