If the broad thrust of the book’s argument doesn’t quite convince, there is still plenty of fascinating detail to scavenge along the way, the sort of thing you could drop into conversation at a middle-aged dinner party when the conversation about the pros and cons of taking statins starts to flag. The fact, for instance, that female painted turtles show no signs of aging at all — their fertility and chances of survival increase as they get older. Or the fact that killer whales are just about the only species apart from humans who have a menopause. Or the way that male chimps prefer to mate with older females. In short, it is when Bainbridge is near his home territory of veterinary science that his book becomes most enlightening. It is when he moves on to human beings and their infinitely more muddled behavior that the book starts to sag, as if it would like to have a nice sit down.
Partly, this is the problem of the popular science genre, which requires a clear take-home message.
Already the author of several popular books, 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.