Kirkus Reviews QR Code
EXTRA LIFE by Steven Johnson


The Astonishing Story of How We Doubled Our Lifespan: Adapted for Young Readers

by Steven Johnson

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 2023
ISBN: 978-0-593-35149-9
Publisher: Viking

A revealing look at some of the reasons why average life spans have skyrocketed over the past century.

Trimming down an adult version published in 2021 in conjunction with a PBS limited series, Johnson offers younger reading audiences a highlights reel of, mostly, scientific advances that have worked to reduce mortality rates—from variolation and vaccination to the controversial but famine-reducing effects of producing nitrates and chickens in industrial quantities. Though the author delivers proper nods to Lady Mary Montagu, Alexander Fleming, and like iconic figures, he cogently argues that each advance actually required the work of collaborative networks to effect lasting change. So it was that, for instance, Louis Pasteur might have learned how to sterilize milk, but it was grassroots efforts such as one led by New York City health commissioner Nathan Straus that first persuaded parents to use it and so drastically reduce infant mortality numbers. Collective efforts have also, Johnson writes, given us safer autos and drugs and eradicated smallpox. In keeping with the positive tone, he neglects to mention how the burgeoning use of antibiotics is resulting in super-resistant bacteria, but he does acknowledge the effects of systemic racism on Covid-19 death rates and the impending challenges of climate change. And, he notes in closing, if economic inequality is skyrocketing in Western countries like the United States, globally, both health outcomes and income levels are actually converging toward equality.

A refreshing change of pace for readers weary of hearing that things are just getting worse.

(recommended reading, endnotes, bibliography, index, photo credits) (Nonfiction. 11-14)