In The Immortality Factor (1973), writer/reporter Segerberg expressed concern about our growing tendency to extend life without improving the quality of the later years. In a way, this second effort at dealing with age answers his previous concern: few of the 1,200 American centenarians who formed the nucleus of this study got to their exalted age without enjoying a high-quality life. Most of the subjects were captured in Social Security questionnaires from 1963 to 1972 (when the data-gathering program was halted by cutbacks), though Segerberg does add a few hundred interviewees from other sources. And guess what: the traditional value structures generally credited with building the country in the first place actually proved to be the deciding factor in longevity. Three-quarters of those studied had worked more than 70 years; 78 percent had spent their lives in a single location; most believed in a religious or moral structure typified by an old woman's explanation for her long life: ""Nothing has transpired in my life that I'm ashamed of."" The subjects also evidenced a calm disposition, as well as a spirit of independence and self-reliance that often made it difficult to force the ""charity"" of social security on them. The word on weight and diet, not surprisingly, was moderation (avoid lots of sugar and alcohol). Sometimes Segerberg resorts to guesswork: he imagines that the centenarians work not only longer than others but harder too (many were farmers, more than 60 percent were employed on occupations requiring physical labor). And he draws some engaging pictures of individual subjects--from the South Dakota Indian chief still doing public-relations work to the oldster convinced that nothing exciting had happened in his life: ""I have never been in jail."" No startling revelations, but nice reading for those who want to learn about the ultimate in well-being.
Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1981
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981
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