Science 101

The 10 Best Reads on the Science of Aging

Dig deeper into the science of aging with these incredible reads.

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If you search for books on aging and longevity, you’ll turn up an abundance of texts and catchphrases on growing old gracefully and intelligently with a whiff of humor or defiance. Well, there’s much more to the story of aging.

Below are 10 nonfiction books chosen by our staff and written by experts in the field of aging. Each one offers a different perspective on how we age, why we age, and what we can do about it. However you read, (by downloading, ordering, or going to your local bookstore), these dig well below the surface of aging.

By Leonard Guarente (2002)

Today age is recognized by many scientists as the leading risk factor for multiple chronic diseases. But back when aging-research pioneer Leonard Guarente, Ph.D., who serves as director of the Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging Research at MIT and co-founded Elysium Health, switched his lab from studying gene regulation in yeast to looking specifically for the genes that control aging, the possibility of slowing the aging process was widely dismissed as fantasy. In Ageless Quest, a 150-page memoir, Guarente gives a personal account of the pursuit of a genetic “cure” for human aging, along the way elucidating the theories of aging and the critical role of the molecule NAD+ in cell metabolism, and imagining a future where the degenerative symptoms of old age, like diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions, someday might be treated with a pill.

By Nessa Carey (2012)

“DNA is not your destiny.” That’s one way to encapsulate the teachings of The Epigenetics Revolution. Here’s another: In this first book by Nessa Carey, the British biologist and former senior lecturer at Imperial College in London, she explains why mapping an organism’s DNA, which she likens to a script rather than a template, is not enough to determine how it develops or acts. In doing so, Carey connects the field of epigenetics to theories on how ants and queen bees control their colonies, why some plants need cold weather before they can flower, and how our bodies age and develop disease. As Carey describes it in her book’s introduction: “When scientists talk about epigenetics they are referring to all the cases where genetic code alone isn’t enough to describe what’s happening — there must be something else going on as well.”

By Ted Anton (2013)

If you’re curious about the cast of characters on the frontlines of aging science, you’ll enjoy The Longevity Seekers. Written by science writer Ted Anton, the book is a chronology of discoveries in the field. Learn about everything from research on yeast cells to the famed roundworm C. elegans then discover findings on resveratrol, caloric restriction, and other revelations that have both generated media buzz on a global scale and changed the shape of biotech. Each chapter of The Longevity Seekers is an accessible, behind-the-scenes profile of some of the most innovative minds of the last 30 years, including Guarente, Nir Barzilai, Brian Kennedy, Cynthia Kenyon, David Sinclair, and two dozen others—closing out with a “Where Are They Now” epilogue.

By Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel (2017)

In The Telomere Effect, Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., and Elissa Epel, Ph.D., present a new way of thinking about human aging, implicating our telomeres—in short, the caps protecting the ends of our chromosomes from damage—as a major culprit in aging and the decline in health that comes along for the ride. Blackburn is a molecular biologist who received a Nobel Prize in 2009 in Physiology or Medicine alongside two colleagues for the discovery of the molecular nature of telomeres, and Elissa Epel an award-winning psychologist who studies stress, aging, and obesity, say they wrote the book to help those interested in telomere science learn to discern the facts from misleading and potentially risky information that can pervade the space. The second half of The Telomere Effect offers a science-backed guide of ways to go about preserving your telomeres, and thus, your health, including mindfulness meditation, nutrition, how-tos on creating new habits and breaking old ones, and workouts shown in studies to protect telomeres from some of the damage brought on by stress.

By Valter Longo (2018)

By now, you’ve likely heard about the practice of eating less to live longer. But how much do you really understand about the science and benefits? The Longevity Diet is a culmination of more than 25 years of research and clinical studies on aging, nutrition, and disease by gerontologist and biochemist Valter Long, Ph.D., a pioneer in the study of caloric restriction. Longo’s plan, called the fasting mimicking diet, or FMD, has been shown to benefit humans and animals in various ways. The Longevity Diet is essentially everything you need to know about FMD in one book, using science to cut through the noise and confusion and answer the question: Can what you eat determine how long, and how well, you live?

By Caleb E. Finch (1994)

In the near 1,000-page Longevity, Senescence, and the Genome, a modern biology textbook, leading expert on Alzheimer’s and founding director of the University of Southern California’s NIH-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Caleb E. Finch, Ph.D., takes readers on a bit-by-bit journey to discern the fundamental differences between the rodent and human brain in the mechanisms of cellular senescence, a phenomenon now thought to be one of the root causes driving disease in old age. A light read it is not. In Finch’s words: “I tried not to dodge controversial or difficult issues, but also tried not to stray unproductively far into areas so uncertain that the issues could not be discerned.” For those new to the science of senescence, the outlines before and summaries following each chapter serve as easy-to-follow guideposts.

By Laura Carstensen (2011)

If asked how long you want to live, most would probably say “to a ripe old age.” But what does that really look like in the 21st century for us and for society, and what are the challenges? Can we afford to the extra years? In A Long Bright Future, longevity and aging expert and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity Laura Carstensen, Ph.D. chips away at those questions and others like it while puzzling out some of the harder truths of “super-sized lives.” A key part of Cartensen’s book is dedicated to outlining and debunking five common myths about old age: that older people are sad and lonely; that your whole fate is determined by your genes; that we should rush to exit the workforce; that older people are a drain on the world’s resources, and that how we fare in old age is entirely an individual matter, and not a function of society.

By Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin (2012)

In 1921, a Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman, Ph.D., began tracking the lives of 1,500 Americans from childhood to death in an attempt to answer the question of who lives longest and why based on personality traits, relationships, career paths, and other experiences. Eight decades later, the study, which is currently led by Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside and the book’s co-author, continues to keep tabs on the remaining participants from the study’s early days who are still alive and analyzes massive amounts of data to establish what has allowed some participants to live healthier for longer than others. The Longevity Project compiles the findings and insights from the most extensive study of longevity ever conducted.

By Kris Verburgh (2018)

If you need an up-to-date, simple primer on how and why we age, and what if anything we can do to slow it, The Longevity Code, written by doctor and polymath Kris Verburgh, M.D., provides comprehensive answers in four parts, each ending in an easy-to-follow summary. Verburgh focuses much of The Longevity Code on optimizing health and healthspan and fighting disease through nutrition. The conclusion is even packed with recipes and tips for eating for longer life.

Verburgh also discusses how new types of vaccines, mitochondrial DNA, CRISPR proteins, and stem cells may one day soon slow or even reverse aging.

By David Stipp (2013)

In The Youth Pill, award-winning science writer David Stipp tells the story of how the field of aging science has transformed over the last three decades and the scientists behind it, starting with the discovery of gerontogenes. What sets Stipp’s book apart from the others is a dose of the weird and shocking. Case in point: Stipp describes a “miracle elixir” from the late 19th century that youth seekers injected, made from a mix of testicular grafts from apes, dogs, goats, and guinea pigs. Stipp carves out ample space in The Youth Pill to explore the larger social and economic implications of slowed aging.

Honorable Mentions

If you’ve successfully made your way through our top 10 and are ready to delve deeper into the biology of aging, here are five more recommendations.

How and Why We Age, by Leonard Hayflick (1996)

Genes and Aging, by M. S. Kanungo (2005)

The Biology of Aging: Observations and Principles, by Robert Arking (2006)

Aging: The Longevity Dividend, edited by S. Jay Olshansky, George M. Martin, and James L. Kirkland (2016)

Why We Age: What Science Is Discovering about the Body's Journey Through Life, by Steven N. Austad (1999)

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