THE BOOK OF AGES by Desmond Morris


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Take the focus of People magazine, add a bit of old-fashioned Gesell or Speck, sprinkle with some trendy phrases on mid-life crises, etc., and you have the essence of Morris' latest. The indefatigable popularizer has decided to celebrate each and every year of human life, from 0 to 100-plus--devoting a full spread to each, and describing growth and development, life expectancy, rites-of-passage and other appropriate psycho/physiological events. There follows a catalogue of who, famous or infamous, suffered misfortune or achieved fame during that particular year: little Mozart playing the harpsichord at three, not to mention Thomas Macaulay voraciously reading, and John Stuart Mill learning Greek. Lots of film stars, TV folk, royalty, robbers, and romancers adorn the pages both in text and pictures. The approach clearly reveals Morris to be a moralizer--intoning on the fate of early misfortune (if not overcome, of course) and recording all those sins. We learn that Baudelaire ("the French poet") died from VD in his mother's arms, having lived a life of notoriety, of hashish and opium, and "offenses against public morality." Calamity Jane is quickly identified as a prostitute. Sirhan Sirhan may not really have killed Robert Kennedy. (The Morris interpretation of history is singular, to say the least.) Natalie Wood, barely cold in her grave, comes up for mention unaccountably often. Queen Anne is the "dull, dowdy and devout monarch" who died at 49. The last entry is Shigechiyo Izumi of Japan: "recognized"--by whom?--"as the oldest man who ever lived" (and who is still living). There follow two pages of concluding remarks that Morris declares to be contradictory: there are similarities at all ages, but the human population is vastly varied. Morris' recipe for ripe old age? An amalgam of good parents, good genes, good sense, good exercise. (Not dull, conscientious jogging or other boring pursuits.) Campy enough to be a smashing addition to the non-book shelf.
Pub Date: March 1st, 1983
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1983


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