A fascinating account of the 268 individuals selected for the Harvard Study of Adult Development (the “Grant Study”), which “began in 1938 as an attempt to transcend medicine’s usual preoccupation with pathology and learn something instead about optimum health and potential and the conditions that promote them.”
Vaillant (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School: Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith, 2008, etc.) has done a wonderful job summarizing the study, discussing its major findings, and communicating his enthusiasm for every aspect of the project, which became his life's work starting in 1966. The study has been investigating what makes a successful and healthy life. Initially, this meant looking for potential officer material for the military. Vaillant established what he called “the Decathlon of Flourishing—a set of ten accomplishments in late life that covered many different facets of success.” With humor and intriguing insights, the author shows how progress in health studies and the passage of time contributed to the constant “back and forth between nature and nurture.” During Vaillant's tenure, human maturation and resilience became the focus, and now biology is reasserting itself in the form of DNA studies and fMRI imaging, the seeds for future research. The author considers the study's greatest contributions to be a demonstration that human growth continues long after adolescence, the world's longest and most thorough study of alcoholism, and its identification and charting of involuntary coping mechanisms. Inspiring when reporting these successes, his personal approach to discovery repeatedly draws readers in as he leads up to the account of his realization that the true value of a human life can only be fully understood in terms of the cumulative record of the entire life span.
Joyful reading about a groundbreaking study and its participants.