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Publisher's Summary

From a psychiatrist who has spent the past 30 years listening to other people's most intimate secrets and troubles comes an eloquent, incisive, and deeply perceptive book about the things we all share, and which every one of us grapples with as we strive to make the most of the life we have left.

After service in Vietnam as a surgeon for the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in 1968-69, at the height of the war, Dr. Gordon Livingston returned to the U.S. and began work as a psychiatrist. In that capacity, he has listened to people talk about their lives, what works, what doesn't, and the limitless ways (most of them self-inflicted) that we have found to be unhappy. He is also a parent twice bereaved. In one 13-month period, he lost his eldest son to suicide, his youngest to leukemia.

Out of a lifetime of experience, Livingston has extracted 30 bedrock truths: We are what we do. Any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Only bad things happen quickly. Forgiveness is a form of letting go, but they are not the same thing. The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas. Livingston illuminates these and 24 others in a series of carefully hewn, perfectly calibrated essays, many of which emphasize our closest relationships and the things that we do to impede or, less frequently, enhance them. Again and again, these essays underscore that "we are what we do", and that while there may be no escaping who we are, we also have the capacity to face loss, misfortune, and regret and to move beyond them, that it is not too late.

©2004 Gordon Livingston; (P)2005 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

"Among the many blithe and hollow self-help books available everywhere, this book stands out as a jewel." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall

Not for the

This book isn't for victims. It's for people who are looking for solid, no nonsense, insight on how to move on and move ahead. I felt that the author wasn't judgmental...just extremely factual. It's a great book and I highly recommend it.

Big time bonus points to the reader. His voice is perfect for the material. He doesn't read too quickly, and his inflections are a fantastic addition to the words.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Serious & Thought Provoking

I would have given this book 5 stars, had I read it in hardback. There were many parts I think I needed to listen to multiple times in order to get a full appreciation for what was being said.

The author offers very sound, serious advice that really made me think. Every lesson brought to mind someone I knew, and I couldn't wait to tell people the advice I'd learned from Dr. Livingston.

Recommended for those who are looking to learn how to view their lives more positively.

Not recommended for those looking solely to be entertained.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Julia
  • Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, United States
  • 11-13-05

This guy is a straight shooter

I really liked that this guy does not buy into the whole victim approach to looking at our problems. He favors taking responsibility. Imagine -- suggesting that children aren't responsible for their aging parents. Parents need to age gracefully, stop griping, keep up some interests, and not drag everyone down into their often-self-created pool of misery. What a concept! This is just one of the eye-opening suggestions this guy makes. It meanders a little bit here and there, but overall it is a nice concise group of essays.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • atlanta, GA, USA
  • 06-23-06

a valuable perspective on our confused species

i enjoyed listening to someone who could take such an experienced, compassionate yet very practical view on our thought processes and traps that are so common and block know these things is to at least know they exist, or even better to let go of our own fabricated dysfunction...and just live

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kelly
  • Boise, ID, USA
  • 10-21-06

Great Title - Incomplete treatment

Has some bright moments surrounded by complaints about various aspects of life. Too boring to listen all the way through. Title was intriguing but if you are looking for a book that helps improve your life - you'll be disappointed. Mostly sour grapes about the past and the unimproved present with commentary on what social changes need to be made in society. Some of the points are valid - but it wasn't the purpose for which I downloaded the book. The author makes some good points but doesn't complete the thoughts in a useful fashion.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Debbie
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 06-16-10

Pointing Out All Peoples' Shortcomings

I see what another reviewer meant about this book being "depressing". The author seems to point out all the shortcomings of people - failings, bad habits, unhappy relationships, etc. At first I found it funny. But, then I found it hard to listen to, and it started to sound like whining. I was hoping to hear more insights versus his spending so much time pointing out or whining about all the problems about people that I already know.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Joe
  • Boise, ID, United States
  • 05-26-09

Very concise on information

Probably one of the better of the books that I have listened too. The information presented here is clear, concise and accurate for those looking to move on from old haunts and hurts. Some may find it a bit harsh since it makes you look at yourself and have your excuses taken away. All in all a great book that I listen to over and over.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Well worth the listen

This is a great book. I listened to it in its entirety twice, and found every minute worthwhile. The sentence structure is at times a little formal, but it all rings true. Compassionate and hopeful, this book is the gift of a brave and generous spirit. Even a great ending!!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Mary
  • augusta, GA, United States
  • 03-08-12

Necessary information

What did you love best about Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart?

I was taken immediately by Livingston's writing and honesty. No platitudes, no telling in anyone he has the answers to life's questions. His writing is like having a conversation with some one who has been there. One opening sentence tells us if the map doesn't agree with the map, the map is wrong. I highly recommend this book, for it's pin point view of life.

What other book might you compare Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart to and why?

If you have read Mr. Livingston's book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, you will find the latest A Year of Magical Thing another insightful book by the wonderful Joan Didion. She is as precise as always and you can feel her pain and then her growing out of her pain.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kerry
  • north billerica, MA, USA
  • 01-07-06


I found most of the book interesting and particularly the fact that the choices we make define our life. Our children choose their paths as well and we shouldn't be guilty if we have tried to love and guide them on the right path and they choose another path. The author has a good sense of humor on each subject. the book has some good chunks of real wisdom in it.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful