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Publisher's Summary

Best-selling author of Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich explores how we are killing ourselves to live longer, not better.

A razor-sharp polemic that offers an entirely new understanding of our bodies, ourselves, and our place in the universe, Natural Causes describes how we overprepare and worry way too much about what is inevitable. One by one, Ehrenreich topples the shibboleths that guide our attempts to live a long, healthy life - from the importance of preventive medical screenings to the concepts of wellness and mindfulness, from dietary fads to fitness culture.
But Natural Causes goes deeper - into the fundamental unreliability of our bodies and even our "mind-bodies", to use the fashionable term. Starting with the mysterious and seldom-acknowledged tendency of our own immune cells to promote deadly cancers, Ehrenreich looks into the cellular basis of aging and shows how little control we actually have over it. We tend to believe we have agency over our bodies, our minds, and even over the manner of our deaths. But the latest science shows that the microscopic subunits of our bodies make their own "decisions", and not always in our favor.

We may buy expensive antiaging products or cosmetic surgery, get preventive screenings and eat more kale, or throw ourselves into meditation and spirituality. But all these things offer only the illusion of control. How to live well, even joyously, while accepting our mortality - that is the vitally important philosophical challenge of this book.

Drawing on varied sources, from personal experience and sociological trends to pop culture and current scientific literature, Natural Causes examines the ways in which we obsess over death, our bodies, and our health. Both funny and caustic, Ehrenreich then tackles the seemingly unsolvable problem of how we might better prepare ourselves for the end - while still reveling in the lives that remain to us.

©2018 Barbara Ehrenreich (P)2018 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"Claiming to be 'old enough to die,' feminist scholar Ehrenreich (Living with a Wild God) takes on the task of investigating America's peculiar approach to aging, health, and wellness...Ehrenreich's sharp intelligence and graceful prose make this book largely pleasurable reading." (Publishers Weekly)

"Throughout the text, [Ehrenreich] employs the erudition that earned her degree, the social consciousness that has long informed her writing, and the compassion that endears her to her many fans...A powerful text that floods the mind with illumination-and with agonizing questions." (Kirkus)

"[Ehrenreich] offers a healthy dose of reformist philosophy combined with her trademark investigative journalism. In assessing our quest for a longer, healthier life, Ehrenreich provides a contemplative vision of an active, engaged health care that goes far beyond the physical restraints of the body and into the realm of metaphysical possibilities." (Booklist)

"Narrator Joyce Bean strikes just the right blend of prickly and wry humor for Barbara Ehrenreich's polemic... Bean's delivery is clear, energetic, and appropriately unsentimental but with an underlying tone of irony and absurdity that provides levity. It all matches Ehrenreich perfectly." (AudioFile)

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vibrant

as an older person with cancer I appreciated many of the insights and perspectives in this book, especially it's positive sense of an animate, vibrant universe, one we are born out of and die back into, naturally

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Not what I expect from this author

Any additional comments?

I have eagerly devoured every book by Barbara Ehrenreich over the years. I think, however, she has gone off the rails with this one. The first part of the book is exactly what I expect from her: incisive, witty, authoritative take-down of the medical and "wellness" fields and how we have bought into scripts that can ultimately harm us.

The second part of the book? Well, it's not that I don't appreciate a rousing lesson in cell biology, and some of her content was fascinating, but there was just no good way to tie her information back to the book's premise. With some mental gymnastics, I think I was able to figure out the points she was trying to make about "natural causes" and macrophages, and the denouement into a philosophical discussion of "what is self?", but honestly, it felt like she was writing her literary obituary. "Here, let me sum up what I know from a lifetime of scientific work in grad school and try to apply it to the sociological observations along the way and my own medical conditions..." and it just didn't tie together.

She will always be one of my favorite authors, and her insights into our world have shaped my own worldview. This book, however, was a disappointment.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Should have been called Microphages and Other...

...Musings on Death.

What happened here? I usually really like Ehrenreich, if only for the entertainment value, but this book...

It's listed in Heath and Fitness > Aging Well. Again, what? I don't know what this book was, but it wasn't that.

I was expecting a book about the medicalization of our lives, which was there, but she really went off the rails by going on and on and on and on about microphages.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Barbara Ehrenreich is really mad at ... something!

Barbara Ehrenreich is such an engaging writer, provocative and insightful. But she's grown very angry at somebody or something, and it's next to impossible to figure out whom or what. She doesn't like the whole "wellness" thing, but she's a gym rat. She rails against taxes on cigarettes and seems to want us all to smoke, or something, especially if we're poor - can't really tell. She doesn't want us to extend our lives if it means we have to eat right and exercise, but it's OK to live longer if we can eat lots of chocolate cake, or something.
She points out that some people do all the right things and still get cancer or drop dead of a heart attack. Life makes no guarantees and apparently not a whole lot of sense to her. Then you die. So ... what? She still does good works and contributes in ways most of us can only hope of doing; I'm just not sure why she went on this particular rant.
I'll ignore Ms. Ehrenreich's Natural Causes for now and keep exercising as best I can, eating right as best I can, and enjoying and contributing as best I can. And I hope she cheers up.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Disappointing

i found the initial chapters of this book to be so unnecessarily snarky that I could not continue reading it. It was disappointing compared to other books by the same author.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Lee
  • Albany, NY, United States
  • 06-10-18

a Powerful statement

Barbara Ehrenreich's research and conclusions are startling, provoking, and significant. I listened, argued, attempted to understand and questioned, waiting to learn what she would conclude. her book has opened possibilities and leaves me with a different understanding of body, mind and nature, and the desire to follow research in this field. The narrator is excellent, the book is read with a strong tone that matches the words, and her diction is clear.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Evert
  • Burtonsville, MD, United States
  • 05-19-18

Fantastic Beginning to Fantastic Disappointment

Ten minuets into the listen I was hooked. “This is going to be fantastic!” Here was a book that presented the science of dying. Ehrenreich, a molecular biologist reviews what happens at the cellular level and then moves on to a new paradigm for the medical profession, for example, looking at the annual physical, not as a medical procedure but as analogous to a quasi-religious ritual. Fascinating stuff!

However, by chapters three or four I began to question my initial reaction. Is greed really the only driving force of over-prescribed medical tests? Shouldn’t fear of malpractice lawsuits at least get a mention? I can imagine a visit to a gynecologist can be invasive, perhaps even traumatic but is it really designed to maintain male dominance over women?!

As the book moved on I realized that while Ehrenreich demands evidence-backed science for all the various recommended preventative tests (and rightly so), she frequently uses anecdotes and opinion to back some of her own views. For example, Jim Fixx did die of a heart attack, but does this really invalidate the benefits of running? Even worse, she ignores the science that contradicts her premise – understandable for the layperson – but coming from a scientist?! She gives a good review of the placebo effect and the power of the mind. But then she ridicules the impact of positive thinking on health. No, positive thinking does not stave off mortality, but it does have a major impact on health.

I kept listening, hoping that the end of the book would bring some redemption, but for me there was none for I began to understand that Natural Causes is not at all about “killing ourselves to live longer.” Repeatedly, Ehrenreich ignores any positive effects of a healthy lifestyle. Her justification for this is “we die anyway.” Ehrenreich’s thesis is really fear of being dead and not fear of dying. She ends the book with anecdotes of friends and colleagues who strive mightily to avoid non-existence: setting up charities to extend their legacy, fighting for one more promotion – all desperate in their fear of no longer being. Yes, despite all medical advances, all the exercise regimens and healthy diets, human mortality is still 100%. And so, to Ehrenreich, I’d quote Asimov: “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome.” And it’s the transition that a healthy lifestyle is trying to avoid.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • toni
  • Vero Beach, FL, United States
  • 09-15-18

Never fear dying!

Barbara has a firm grip on the reality of what it is like to avoid the Medical Industrial culture and why one might want to.
Dying is nothing to be afraid of!
Thank you Barbara for your insight.

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Did not want an anti-medicine screed

I was hoping for a book that would help me age gracefully and in good health. This is a screed against doctors and the medical establishment I don't need. Not for me.

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Hard to Believe this book was published

It’s hard to believe a publisher published this book. The author expresses anger at preventative medicine, the fitness industry, the mindfulness industry, the pharmaceutical industry and more without offer good scientific evidence in the body of the text to support her arguments. I am not sure if there are references at the end of the chapters in the printed version. At best she is a ranting, angry person. If one were not to look at her arguments critically and follow her baseless advice, one could label her dangerous. A very disappointing purchase.