Following some reports (Dr. Leaf's Youth in Old Age?) and intriguing rumors, British human ecologist Davies made the perilous journey by bus over mudslide to Vilcabamba, a remote town in the Ecuadorean Andes. Hare, and in neighboring villages, he found a goodly number of nimble, bright-eyed and clear-minded old men and women--workers, smokers, drinkers, often sexually active--whom parish records proved to be from 105 to 130, and whose memories, in some cases, put them past 140. Hence this is ""the first study of the oldest authenticated living people,"" though other undocumented ancients have been observed in the Russian Caucasus and in Pakistani Hunza. This book is a vivid and fascinating--if lamentably disorganized and repetitive--summary of Davies' preliminary search for factors that permit these people to live so long so hale. Davies thinks environment at least as important as heredity, and so his book is very much an inquiry into the mysterious benefits of the high Ecuadorean environment, apparently considered a ""paradise"" even in pre-Columbian times, and known for such other physiological oddities as early tooth loss, late menopause, and the virtual absence of heart disease and cancer. Davies splendidly evokes the historical aura of mystery and the sheer beauty of place before detailing such prosaic magics as low humidity, even temperature, trace minerals in the soil, altitude, medicinal herbs, and contributory factors in the villagers' way of life: tranquility, exercise, and an austere but balanced diet--all comparable to the Caucasus and Hunza, all in stark contrast to, say, Los Angeles. Davies has as lively an eye for the quiddities of human life as for the delights of landscape, and his book--careless in structure but never in detail--is an absorbing blend of tantalizing scientific information, explorer's adventure and human concern.