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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Secrets of the Centenarians

What is it Like to Live for a Century and Which of Us Will Survive to Find Out?

Distributed for Reaktion Books

Secrets of the Centenarians

What is it Like to Live for a Century and Which of Us Will Survive to Find Out?

In October 1995, a blind, deaf, French grandmother broke a world record. Jeanne Calment became, so far as we know, the oldest human being who has ever lived when she reached the age of 120 years and 238 days. She went on to survive for nearly three more years—dying in 1997 at 122 years and 164 days. On the long journey to her record-breaking age, Madame Calment acquired more and more company. The United States today has more centenarians than any other country, and they are the fastest-growing section of the population, with at least fourteen times as many centenarians as there were sixty years ago. Secrets of the Centenarians delves into the intriguing background of this incredible increase.

In the book, John Withington explores the factors that determine who among us will reach one hundred and who will not. Is it determined by lifestyle or by genetics or by geography? Why do women outnumber men so heavily among centenarians? What kind of life can you expect if you reach one hundred? Is surviving that long a blessing or a curse? Withington answers these questions and more, along the way telling stories of celebrity centenarians like the comedians Bob Hope and George Burns, songwriter Irving Berlin, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Britain’s Queen Mother, and the scientist who invented LSD. Finally, Withington explores whether—even if the number of centenarians keeps increasing—there remains a maximum life span beyond which we cannot survive.

Thoughtful, well-researched, and highly entertaining, Secrets of the Centenarians reveals some of the most intriguing secrets of growing older.

256 pages | 50 halftones | 6 x 9

Culture Studies


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“Enjoyable and well written. . . . Using a journalistic tone, Withington looks at the history of exceptional human longevity, from Biblical oldster Methuselah to Britain’s celebrity fogey of the seventeenth century, Thomas Parr, before moving onto the recent surge, relatively speaking, in centenarians. . . . Filled with interesting facts and lively characters."

Publishers Weekly

"Withington has been gathering research about centenarians since 1984, when he spearheaded a current-affairs series on 100-somethings for Britain’s ITV network. Today, this long-lived cohort is the fastest-growing segment of the population and will likely remain so for years to come. Along with wisdom on how to live a long life, Secrets looks at 'blue zones,' global hot spots with a disproportionate number of centenarians; the upper limits of longevity; and a good overview of research on living a long life."

Sarah Murdoch | Toronto Star

"The general dos and don’ts are: don’t smoke, don’t become obese, don’t be grumpy; and do eat a moderate diet, do be open to new interests later in life, do be positive and do do lots of walking. These and many other factors—and, interestingly, some complete exceptions to these rules—are examined in Secrets of the Centenarians. . . . Real food for thought on a subject that must be of interest to us all."


"Beautifully illustrated. . . . There is so much in this book that will give multiple pointers for other researchers and the general reader will be inspired by the personal stories that are told."

Methodist Recorder

"Packed with information, this is essential reading for anyone planning on getting a one-hundredth birthday card from Her Majesty. . . . Dissects longevity brilliantly considering factors such as genetics, marriage, location, and diet. . . . Best case studies and anecdotes in one book!"

Devon Life

Table of Contents

1 Nasty, Brutish and Short
2 Explosion!
3 It’s a Woman’s World
4 The Record-breakers
5 Celebrity Centenarians
6 Who Will Survive to 100?
7 The Lives of 100-year-olds
8 Location, Location!
9 IS There a Limit to Our Lives?

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