Reviewing "The Quest for Immortality"

"The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging" by S. J. Olshansky and B. A. Carnes came out in 2001. Olshansky is one of the conservative old guard in biogerontology, in that he doesn't believe radical extension of the healthy human life span to be possible. Scientists with this and similar mindsets are (despite good work in the past) now holding up progress towards real, meaningful anti-aging medicine.

Over at the Immortality Institute, Prometheus was kind enough to review this book:

I was going through some boxes of "old" books when I came across The Quest for Immortality by S. J. Olshansky and B. A. Carnes. (2001). Since this has not been reviewed in this forum I thought I would share my views on this book with you.

For those not familiar with Olshansky, he is one of the three authors (along with Hayflick and Carnes) of the famous/infamous essay in Scientific American, No Truth to the Fountain of Youth which was co-signed by 51 researchers including Aubrey de Grey (!). This article set out to make a stand against the information in the public domain which suggested that it was possible to interfere with the aging process. Whilst it was important to do this in the context of the snake oil peddlers out there it also tended to have an effect of throwing the baby out with the bathwater since it invalidated every single possible intervention in existence which is factually untrue (if you wish to debate this point with me be my guest).

Back to the book: This is a fine book to read if you are interested in the views of two scientists who specialize in epidimiology with a very conservative view of what can be done about aging (nothing) written in an easy style and interspersed with the occasional interesting fact.


Olshansky received a doctorate in sociology in 1984 and his specialization is epidemiology and biostatistics. Carnes similarly specializes in biodemography. Their particular focus comes out in the book as does their lack of focus in the necessary cell biology. The book has lashings of undue pessimism and I must say I only enjoyed the first chapter: Death and Immortality: Early Views.


All in all a book for those who need to have the belief reinforced that real life extension is only a dream and our destiny as food for worms is carved in stone. Now I know why it was in the box with the "old" books.

Needless to say, our future as worm food is very much not set in stone! However, a future in which effective anti-aging medicine is developed soon enough to help those of us reading this now will require funding, widespread support and greater education of the public. We can't just sit on the sidelines and expect results.

Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.