336 pages, illustrations
A revolutionary examination of why we age, what it means for our health, and how we just might be able to fight it.
In Cracking the Aging Code theoretical biologist Josh Mitteldorf and award-winning writer and ecological philosopher Dorion Sagan reveal that evolution and aging are even more complex and breathtaking than we originally thought. Using meticulous multidisciplinary science, as well as reviewing the history of our understanding about evolution, Cracking the Aging Code makes the case that aging is not something that just happens, nor is it the result of wear and tear or a genetic inevitability. Rather, aging has a fascinating evolutionary purpose: to stabilize populations and ecosystems, which are ever-threatened by cyclic swings that can lead to extinction.
When a population grows too fast it can put itself at risk of a wholesale wipeout. Aging has evolved to help us adjust our growth in a sustainable fashion as well as prevent an ecological crisis from starvation, predation, pollution, or infection.
This dynamic new understanding of aging is provocative, entertaining, and pioneering, and will challenge the way we understand aging, death, and just what makes us human."
"This truly revolutionary book presents a new view of aging: we don't wear out; we are killed from within by genes timed to eliminate us for the good of the larger community. Are the authors right? They're certainly persuasive, and the implications are staggering."
– Carl Safina, Stony Brook University Endowed Professor for Nature and Humanity and author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
"Cracking the Aging Code is the most original popular science book you're likely to read this year. Josh Mitteldorf is a creative thinker and a master teacher. Whether you agree or disagree with the central premise we are programmed to die you'll find that Cracking the Aging Code reshapes your understanding of profound issues concerning the genetic construction of life and death."
– Peter D. Kramer, Clinical Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University and author of Ordinarily Well and Listening to Prozac
"The authors have attacked one of the greatest paradoxes in the evolutionary sciences. If genes are so damned selfish, why do they code for the destruction of the bodies that carry them? This book includes many a fascinating, entrancing but real tale from nature. And it shows how every one of these pieces of evidence challenges us to answer the book's big question why would genes code not just for survival but for an organism's annihilation?"
– Howard Bloom, author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History and The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates
"How do we "grow" into old age? Josh Mitteldorf knows as much about this subtle question as anyone writing today, and his account is full of surprises. He and his coauthor, Dorion Sagan, have created a winning combination of biological literacy and civilized conversation, a true gift to the reader."
– Angus Fletcher, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at The City University of New York Graduate School and author of The Topological Imagination: Spheres, Edges, and Islands
"A thoughtful examination of the role of aging and death in supporting life."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Together Mitteldorf and Sagan slough off the old aging theories to make way for the new [...] In many ways Cracking the Aging Code reminds me of On the Origin of Species both work to overcome entrenched ideas [...] Mitteldorf is like a Darwin himself, full of questions about nature, plunging himself into thought against prevailing notions, making an intellectual voyage to the far ends of research to gather, with painstaking care, all the data needed to support the idea of group selection. For those readers who might not be aware of how scientific progress is made, I recommend this book because there is so much to be learned here from witnessing the struggle against orthodoxy, which is everything in science."
– Digital Journal
- Preface: What This Book Is About
- Prologue: Your Inner Stalker (written by Dorion Sagan)
- Introduction: How a Lifelong Obsession with Aging and Health Became My Career (written by Josh Mitteldorf)
- You Are Not a Car: You Body Does Not "Wear Out"
- The Way of Some Flesh: The Varieties of Aging Experience
- Darwin in a Straitjacket: Tracing Modern Evolutionary Theory
- Theories of Aging and Aging of Theories
- When Aging Was Young: Replicative Senescence
- When Aging Was Even Younger: Apoptosis
- The Balance of Nature: Demographic Homeostasis
- So We All Don't Die at Once: Wiles of the Black Queen
- Live Longer Right Now
- The Near Future of Aging
- All Tomorrow's Parties
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Theoretical biologist Josh Mitteldorf has a PhD from UPenn. He runs the website AgingAdvice.org, and writes a weekly column for ScienceBlog.com. Mitteldorf has had visiting research and teaching positions at various universities including MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley.
Dorion Sagan is a celebrated writer, ecological philosopher and theorist. His essays, articles, and book reviews have appeared in Natural History, Smithsonian, Wired, New Scientist, and The New York Times, among others.