Ehrenreich (Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything, 2014, etc.) returns with research and rumination on the complexity of our human bodies and the misconceptions of our minds.
The author has a doctorate in cellular immunology, and throughout the text, she employs the erudition that earned her degree, the social consciousness that has long informed her writing, and the compassion that endears her to her many fans. Ehrenreich leads us through the recent biomedical research that shows us, among other things, that our immune systems can turn on us, actually easing (rather than preventing) the spread of cancer cells. Elsewhere, she writes about the puzzles of menstruation (why do human women bleed far more than other creatures?), autoimmune diseases, and the pervasive belief that we can control our lives. “We are not,” she writes, “the sole authors of our destinies or of anything else.” The author also explores the social and cultural aspects of health and aging: She notes how wealthier, healthier people look upon the poor—who are more likely to smoke and eat poorly—with moral disdain. She goes after the medical establishment for what she believes are superfluous, redundant tests and procedures, and she assails the self-help industry for our currently dominant, and often unhelpful, ideas of selfhood and wellness. Ehrenreich sees the body-mind connection as incredibly complex and discusses the odd notion that cells often do what they want rather than what they’re “supposed” to do. The author will certainly not endear herself to the pious among us; her discussions of the origins and evolution of religious ideas are hardly orthodox. Mostly, she urges that we recognize that death is natural, that we enjoy our lives while we can, and that we disabuse ourselves of any self-serving notions of post-mortem permanence or even influence.
A powerful text that floods the mind with illumination—and with agonizing questions.