22 May 2012


From the Guardian review of Middle Age: A Natural History (London: Portobello 2012) by David Bainbridge -
in this determinedly chirpy book, David Bainbridge wants to show that the years between 40 and 60 actually represent a kind of sunlit upland of "maximal" experience. Yes, we get fatter and slower and less able to read small print (this book is tactfully printed in a large size font). But our bodies stay in pretty good nick: if you get to 40, then you are very likely to get to 60. What's more, argues Bainbridge in a slightly over-emphatic way, as if talking to someone with early hearing loss, by the time we enter our fifth decade we will have developed cognitive capacities that allow us to think more cleverly than, if not quite as quickly as, we used to at 20. In a culture that depends on harvesting information rather than, say, turnips, this puts middle-aged people in pole position for a really rather lovely life.
Alas -
Already the author of several popular books – his most recent was on why teenagers are terrific – Bainbridge doesn't seem yet to have found a voice that elegantly bridges the gap between the language of academic and popular science. He veers too far to the arch – at one point using the phrase "dear reader", for which he should really be shot, even if he is 43 and therefore out of the age band where a man is most likely to meet a violent death. This chumminess is combined with a tic, derived from academic writing, of telling the reader what she is about to be told and then telling her afterwards that she has just been told it. This is particularly irritating given that the book is presumably targeted at the middle aged – the very people who are supposed to have inherited from their ancestors a laser-like ability to spot what really matters in any given situation.