A matter-of-fact chronicle of the long search for the elixir of life, the philosopher’s stone, the fountain of youth, and other means of exceeding our allotted spans.
As Birmingham (Tastes Like Music: 17 Quirks of the Brain and Body, 2014) observes, the search has occupied us at least since Gilgamesh found and then lost a certain magical plant. Moving from medieval alchemical concoctions to current research involving telomeres and the FoxO gene, she intersperses myths and folk beliefs, cautionary stories such as the legend of Tithonus (who was granted immortality but not eternal youth), and side looks at Dracula, Harry Potter, Tuck Everlasting, and other modern exemplars. She also catalogs places both real (the so-called Blue Zones) and fictional where death is delayed or banished, looks at promising new longevity techniques from cryogenics to uploading our minds into cloned or artificial bodies, and then closes with an array of afterlifes promised by major world religions. The big question—why we would want to live forever—she saves for a reflective finale. Holinaty’s fanciful monochrome illustrations add breezy notes, if not much information, to the narrative’s finely balanced mix of fact and generality.
A tasty distillation of history, religion, chemistry, biology, technology, and pop culture. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-13)