Natural Causes

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

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Barbara Ehrenreich: Natural Causes

English language

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3 stars (6 reviews)

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 …

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Review of 'Natural Causes' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

I finished this today but I'm not sure when I started it. When it came out, the media were most interested in Ms. Ehrenreich's shocking decision to forego so many annoying medical tests. This is only a small portion of the book, however, which at times doesn't seem to have a single theme. It's more of a meditation on life itself (only the author wouldn't use the term "meditation" since she sees that practice as faddish).

She rejects the standard materialistic view and ends up as something of an animist, finding free will or the ability and need to make decisions goes down to the cellular level. This isn't some kind of new age-ish peculiarity on her part but is consistent with science (she having a PhD in cell biology). Having read her Living With a Wild God I've already gone through some of these experiences with her.

I'd have …

Review of 'Natural Causes' on 'Goodreads'

2 stars

If you’re looking for smug justification for poor health choices, whether it’s smoking, living a sedentary lifestyle, or eating junk, Barbara Ehrenreich is here for you. This book is funny and entertaining, and critically examines our society’s obsession with clever tricks to stave off death. But it ultimately misses the point: Making good choices about one’s health (both physical and mental) isn’t about living forever, it’s about having better quality of life during the few years we’ve got. And as much as the author pokes fun at the mercurial nature of health fads, the core is what matters: Live a physically active life and eat “not too much, mostly plants” (to quote Michael Pollan). Ehrenreich is free to enjoy as much Wendy’s and Popeye’s as she wants, treat physical activity as a horrendous chore rather than a fun way to feel better, and scoff at meditation and other mindfulness initiatives, …

Review of 'Natural Causes' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

I have no idea what I’ve just read. It began as I had expected: ranting against the American overtreat/overworry medical system and against the insane microoptimizations so many people obsess over in diet, exercise, “wellness”. Then... I’m not sure. Ehrenreich took me on a careening tour of medical history, molecular biology, comparative religions, and eventually metaphysical questions of self and facing death. Plus occasional detours to snipe at Silicon Valley. It was rather more than I was prepared for; in a good way, absolutely, but I was just not in the proper mindframe for it. If I’m still around in a year or two, I may want to reread this.

For the one or two people who might read my words: do read it, just, be prepared for what feel like digressions. The content is insightful, educational, even enjoyable. I gained new perspectives on subjects I thought myself informed about …

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