Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer

Steven Johnson. Riverhead, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-53885-1
Johnson (Enemy of All Mankind), host of the PBS/BBC television series How We Got to Now, highlights in this thorough if unsatisfying account a handful of medical and other breakthroughs that have extended human life expectancy, as well as decreased child mortality. In episodic investigations, Johnson covers such advancements and discoveries as antibiotics, pasteurization, and safety regulations in the automotive industry that have contributed to giving “us about 20,000 extra days of life on average” compared to a century ago. He also includes vignettes about famous medical pioneers such as Edward Jenner, whose scraping of a milkmaid’s cowpox blisters led to the development of the smallpox vaccine in 1796, as well as lesser-knowns, among them Lady Montagu, who “in 1718 had her son inoculated against smallpox using a method she observed in Turkey,” and Onesimus, a slave whose ideas led to widespread inoculation in New England. The author also touts the importance of activists and evangelists who supported life-saving ideas before research labs proved them, as well as politicians who integrated science into policy. The breadth of fields that Johnson calls on makes for a wide-ranging survey, but it fails to gel into a cohesive narrative. While informative, this one doesn’t come together. (May)
Reviewed on : 02/26/2021
Release date: 05/11/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 486 pages - 978-0-593-39569-1
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