Embracing Aging | Collection Development

Build your library’s collection of resources about aging with this list, including popular science titles about biogerontology and longevity; memoirs; sociological and anthropological studies of aging around the world; reference books; and podcasts.

“Who wants to live forever?,” sang Queen on the soundtrack to the film Highlander. Are such fantasies nearer to becoming reality? The search for a biological or technological key to “immortality” has been a hot topic for decades, and the potential of the gene-editing tool CRISPR has brought it even closer. Currently, immortality is a far-off grail, but the population curve over the last century has been reflecting the increase in longevity, in days lived over a lifetime, thanks to medical, environmental, and social advancements. In 2018, the world had more people living aged over 64 than children younger than five. In the last year there was a decline in the age of average life expectancy, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is too early to say if this is a permanent change.

LONGEVITY VS. ANTI-AGING

Researchers in the field of biogerontology distinguish between anti-aging and longevity. Anti-aging is regarded as a business phenomenon that sells millions of dollars of products and promises and uses limited traditional research protocols to test effects. Similarly, biohacking, a term describing how individuals take combinations of supplements and make lifestyle changes, offers more claims to help the body stay youthful. Longevity, by contrast, refers to the science, societal changes, practical challenges, and solutions of increased life and health spans.

Biogerontologists work with traditional research guidelines to discover how the body ages through biological and technological advances and innovations, and what can be done to make progress in health spans and life spans. The goal is for people to be able to function to an optimal level and be disease-free longer. Instead of focusing on the individual diseases’ treatment model, the goal is to study the effects of aging, the overarching reason for the “wear and tear.” Some aspects of healthy living are in our hands, making books about the subject popular. Research has shown that a person’s genetic make-up is responsible for only around 20 percent of their health, and the other 80 percent is determined by social, behavioral, and environmental factors.

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT

This resource list includes titles that cover the topic of aging well in a variety of ways. There are an increasing number of popular science titles from biogerontologists covering recent longevity research and their own unique interests. Other titles cover the more sociological and topical areas of growing older, and what that means for individuals, their communities, and the global infrastructure. There are also some lifestyle suggestions, which readers can put into practice.

When considering books on longevity, collection development teams should be mindful to balance titles covering research-oriented aging books and the potentially less rigorously researched aspects of anti-aging books. There is a notable lack of authors of color publishing in this area; selectors should ensure there is balance, seeking out as many representative titles as possible. Collection development librarians will note that there are overlaps in information, but the titles below also each have a specifically different aspect of focus, so any of these titles would be of benefit to a general public library or consumer health library collection.

Starred (redstar) titles are considered essential for most community-based or consumer health libraries.


BIOGERONTOLOGY SCIENCE

Barzilai, Nir. Age Later: Health Span, Life Span, and the Science of Longevity. St. Martin’s. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9781250230850. $28.99.
Barzilai writes about what can be done scientifically, currently, and in the future, about the body aging. He explains how aging is the driving force behind many chronic diseases so it follows that aging should be given more attention. Advice from centenarians is featured throughout.

Blackburn, Elizabeth & Elissa Epel. The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer. Grand Central. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9781455587971. $31.
Blackburn, in collaboration with Epel, documents her Nobel Prize–winning research and explains the mechanisms of aging at a cellular level with the biological indicator telomerase, an enzyme which replenishes telomeres that act as a genetic protector. Also offers self-help tips.

Johnson, Steven. Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer. Riverhead. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780525538851. $28.
The early 20th century recorded the last major reversal in global life expectancy, and Johnson details seven major medical, technological, and societal advances over the following decades to highlight how and why we are living longer. The book also explores medical researchers who have contributed to longevity.

Levitin, Daniel J. Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives. Dutton. 2020. 528p. ISBN 9781524744182. $30.
Levitin explains how understanding the science of brain changes across a lifetime can be used to help add time to health and life span. The wide-ranging book also covers practical things readers can do now to be productive and carry on doing what they want to do for as long as possible.

Steele, Andrew. Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old. Doubleday. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9780385544924. $29.
The author underlines that biogerontology research is expanding and will create progress years from now. However, work also has to be done now for the next generations. He explains what society and governments can do to help. A well-researched and readable account of the current state of biogerontology research.


PERSONAL EXPERIENCES

Day, John D., Jane Ann Day  Matthew LaPlante. The Longevity Plan: Seven Life-Transforming Lessons from Ancient China. Harper. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780062319814. $25.99.
A case study from a cardiologist and his family who heard of the remote Chinese village known as Longevity Village, due to the large number of centenarians who have lived there. Day offers an interesting and unique look at current practices within a cohort group who regularly live longer lives than average.

Esty, Katherine. Eightysomethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness. Skyhorse. 2019. 240p. ISBN 9781510743120. $24.99.
A social psychologist surveys people in their 80s, and some of their adult children, in order to compile an overview of life after 80. The book is an invaluable record of real-life examples of living during this elder stage, focusing on areas such as an increasing need for help, the importance of friendship, and caregiving issues.

orange starred review symbolPipher, Mary. Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age. Bloomsbury. 2019. 272p. ISBN 9781632869609. $27.
A well-renowned psychologist details how older women can cultivate resiliency as they age, and be responsible for proactive actions and decisions. An exemplary text, underscoring that being a certain age is not an “end.” This is a social study rather than a medical title, but both these aspects work together.

orange starred review symbolThomas, Elizabeth Marshall. Growing Old: Notes on Aging with Something Like Grace. HarperOne. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9780062956439. $25.99.
This deeply touching and personal account includes realistic and insightful chapters from an astute observer of life at an older age. Both a memoir and a calm reflection on dignity and grace, Thomas has thoughts about aging, which can be used as an illustration for generations to come.


SOCIETAL EXPLORATIONS

orange starred review symbolApplewhite, Ashton. This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. Celadon. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781250311481. $26.99.
A well-researched, passionate, and personal book about ageism and how society is affected by it. In describing how society can and should better accommodate the older brain and older body, Applewhite has created a detailed overview from the point of view of a self-described anti-ageism activist and advocate.

orange starred review symbolAronson, Louise. Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimaging Life. Bloomsbury. 2019. 464p. ISBN 9781620405468. $30.
Based on her perspective as a gerontologist, Aronson uses case studies and personal experiences to illustrate situations, expectations, and realities of ageism in the “third act” of life. These enduring attitudes must be reframed as life spans are increasing and the “third act” is getting more significant and longer.

Coughlin, Joseph F. The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest Growing, Most Misunderstood Market. PublicAffairs. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781610396639. $28.
Coughlin gives concrete suggestions on how society and businesses can modify products to be accessible, and how older-age health care and elder care must change from an end-of-life focus to being regarded as a new chapter in life. Also details how long-held societal constructs have influenced the idea of aging.

Jenkins, Jo Ann. Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age. Public Affairs. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9781610397742. $16.99.
A classic written by the CEO of AARP that confronts ageism by calling for people to defy societal norms and expectations. It also offers ways to disrupt the usual mindset about aging. Techniques on health, wealth, and self-care are offered to help everyone resist being defined by any age, and to remember to focus on living.

Sanderson, Warren C. & Sergei Scherbov. Prospective Longevity: A New Vision of Population Aging. Harvard Univ. 2019. 272p. ISBN 9780674975613. $47.
An economist’s view of aging in demographic terms. People have both a chronological and a prospective age and need to be able to plan long-term. With a worldwide research perspective and an academic focus, the book provides an interesting, unique angle.

orange starred review symbolScott, Andrew J. & Lynda Gratton. The New Long Life: A Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World. Bloomsbury. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9781635577143. $27.
Economists Scott and Gratton explain how planning for globally successful longevity in life will require massive social reform. This book illustrates a comprehensive framework to support these social transitions, and what changes will mean for education, economy, and health care.


REFERENCE

orange starred review symbolThe Cultural Context of Aging: Worldwide Perspectives. ed. by Jay Sokolovsky. 4th ed. Praeger. 2020. 707p. ISBN 978144085201. $101.
An updated edition of the award-winning work on the consequences of global aging, full of informational chapters and essays. The academic resource uses recent research and case studies to illustrate how countries worldwide are tackling current aging issues and future planning.

The Gale Encyclopedia of Senior Health: A Guide for Seniors and Their Caregivers. ed. by Brigham Narins. 3rd ed. Gale. 2021. 2700p. ISBN 9780028677118. $1100.
This updated five-volume set expands upon two previous editions by covering over 700 topics using brief descriptions, illustrations, graphs, and more. Topics range from medical conditions, treatment options, emotional health, and community aspects of growing older.

Aging in America. ed. by. Robert L. Scardamalia. 4th ed. Bernan Press. 2020. 506p. ISBN 9781641434294. $125.
This reference work offers data related to a wide range of aging concerns, such as grandparents raising grandchildren, economic well-being, and demographic changes across the United States.


MORE RESOURCES

Healthy People 2030
Part of the U.S. Department of Health, this 40-year initiative brings together networks and organizations to support improving people’s overall well-being.

National Institute on Aging (NIA)
The NIA supports research into the mechanics of aging. They are also the lead federal organization supporting and conducting research into Alzheimer’s disease.

Stanford Center on Longevity
An initiative researching societal aspects of aging. The Center has started producing a podcast, covering topics such as Millennial and Gen Z caregivers.

Edge of Aging
This weekly podcast discusses current topics around aging, including new possibilities of health care and eldercare models, with different guests each episode.


Elizabeth J. Eastwood works at a public library in New Mexico. She has worked in multiple types of libraries for over 27 years, and has reviewed consumer health titles for LJ for over 15 years.

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