Monday, February 18, 2013

The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study

The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study
By Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

This is an outstanding book for a large number of reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that it is well written. The 222 pages of text information pass by in a moment for the precise reasons that you become involved in the book, the information is essential and important, the book is well-organized, but especially because it is an easy, comfortable read.

Second, there are thirteen pages of excellent notes. Friedman and Martin are researchers of the utmost credibility and reputation, and their notes reveal not just their expertise but, too, their desire to footnote (or credit) all sources they consulted. I feel that if readers can consult such a complete set of references or notations (even if they choose not to!), not only does this add to the trustworthiness of the authors, but, too, to the believability, reliability, and dependability of the information.

Third, is a feature I included in an early edition of my textbook, COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY, 10th ed. (McGraw-Hill, 2012), and have continued throughout all editions since (by popular demand) — self-assessment scales with simple-to-understand explanations about how to score each of the quizzes. Now, you may think these quizzes are valuable for readers simply because they provide a way for them to measure how they rate on the chapter’s topic of concern. That is one issue. More important for me, however, is how each of the self-assessment quizzes breaks down the topic into specific, practical, applicable items. For example, on the "neuroticism" quiz, you get ten items that cover such things as being affected by praise or blame, feeling miserable, being touchy on certain topics, being bothered by useless thoughts or burdened by a sense of remorse or regret, worry over humiliating experiences, feeling happy or sad, getting your feelings easily hurt, moodiness, and emotionality (pp. 42-43). You learn that that is how neuroticism is defined.

Fourth, I liked the findings of The Longevity Project, and using the "eyeball test," I found they offered some valuable and worthwhile insights. For example, it has always been thought that your level of education was a good predictor of later health and longevity. Yes, this was a factor; however, "it was not an important factor compared to other personal and social predictors of health and long life" (p. 75). Conscientiousness, discussed in the first chapter of the book, and persistence were of greater importance. These are the kind of people "who were better able and better motivated to navigate life’s personal and social challenges" (p. 75).

Fifth, the authors end each of their chapters with a section, "What It Means for You: Guideposts to Health and Long Life." If there is any thought that this book is just a series of reports about research results, these sections should dispel that notion. They serve various functions. They often review the material of the chapter; they sometimes offer a transition to the next chapter; they may examine some unanswered questions or areas where more research is needed; I found their most important function, however, is the motivation they offer readers for their pursuit of the trait or characteristic under discussion. I thought this was a brilliant and useful way to end the chapters.

Sixth, let me group a number of items here. I liked the short sections, the personal stories that enliven the research, the way research is incorporated, how the authors were able to relate their findings to other studies by researchers, and the manner in which Friedman and Martin came to definite and precise conclusions when they could.

Everyone will find something of value in this book. For me, it was the total package. This is an incredibly valuable and worthwhile book with great, relevant suggestions for living a longer (and more vibrant) life.

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