RogerBW's Blog

Bolder, Carl Honoré 29 February 2020

2019 non-fiction. Honoré looks at the practicalities and possibilities of ageing.

This is a relentlessly positive book. Which is just fine in a 75-minute Book of the Week condensation, though I'm not sure I'd have stuck it through 304 hardback pages.

In the five segments used in the programme, the general topics are scene-setting, the body, the mind, stereotypes, and romance, relationships and sex (those last three crammed together at the end and suffering somewhat thereby). There are, I think, three overall theses that Honoré is advancing:

  • Ageing doesn't have to be as bad as it's often been portrayed: some things work less well, certainly, but other things work better.

  • The world is slowly being adapted to older people as businesses finally accept that there's money to be had off them.

  • The biggest problem is societal conventions and stereotypes surrounding age.

A particularly interesting point for me in the first class is that the degradation of myelin sheaths appears to allow for greater interconnection between neurons within the brain; while this can obviously be taken to excess, Honoré quotes studies (I assume there are references in the book) to indicate that while people in middle age may well settle into their ways there's something of a resurgence of openness to new ideas, and indeed creativity, by people entering their sixties and later.

If those people are prepared to allow it, and the problem of convention and stereotype. Just as non-white people exposed to racist propaganda perform demonstrably worse at standardised tasks afterwards, people who have accepted that old age is just a boring slide down to the grave are much more likely to lose physical and cognitive function than those who've tried to do something about it.

Yes, all right, there's a lot of "look at these great (if rare) examples" - a cyclist at sixty who's just beaten his best ever time at forty, and so on. But I think that's a deliberate policy of putting Honoré's own recommendations into effect: just as with young athletes held up as examplars, you the reader may not be that good, but it's proof that people can be that good, so you might as well get some mild exercise (mental and physical), eat healthily, don't smoke, all the standard stuff, but with the promise of actual data behind it rather than just the usual suspects seeing a thing that people enjoy and trying to ban it.

I don't suppose I'll read the book, but I found the extracts jolly good.

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