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The Thing about Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead
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The Thing about Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead

3.34  ·  Rating Details ·  1,386 Ratings  ·  254 Reviews
Mesmerized and somewhat unnerved by his 97-year-old father's vitality and optimism, David Shields undertakes an original investigation of our flesh-and-blood existence, our mortal being.

Weaving together personal anecdote, biological fact, philosophical doubt, cultural criticism, and the wisdom of an eclectic range of writers and thinkers—from Lucretius to Woody Allen—Shiel
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published February 5th 2008 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (first published January 1st 2008)
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May 19, 2008 Denis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If, like this reader, you are somewhat obsessed with the topic of death, and that seemingly impending event at times puts a damper on your here and now, then you’ll likely be engaged while reading this memoir, too.

The book is very much homage to the author’s once spirited, indefatigable, and often annoying father, who is finally (at the age of 97) showing signs of mortality. In it Shields discusses different aspects of life, touching on birth, childhood, food, sex, etc.; and of course, death. Th
Mar 01, 2008 James rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll Be Dead is a difficult-to-define, genre-crossing brooding and searching book that combines biography and biology in an obsessive musing on Death. David Shields’ father is 97. David Shields is obsessed with his father’s vitality and seemingly miraculous health and amazingly long life. So instead of simply being grateful, he wrote a book about his obsession with death and all the related gritty details therein.

Shields hasn’t so much written a book as he
M. Sarki
Mar 29, 2014 M. Sarki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"Our only certainty is to act with the body."___Ludwig Wiitgenstein

"The body never lies."___Martha Graham

This very morning upon finally reaching the last section of this book here, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, the final section sub-headed Old Age and Death, I felt relieved and somewhat anxious. The book has not been hard at all to read up to this point, but I was a little tired of all the foreplay as this final section is what I really came here for. All the writing leadi
Feb 18, 2008 Darga rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who will someday be dead
absolutely beautiful and amazing. i love this book so much i can't describe it. i'm going to make a point to read it once a year for as long as i live.

the book has so many interesting facts and quotes that i ended up dogearing almost the entire book, so i'll just include the prologue:

"this book is an autobiography of my body, a biography of my father's body, an anatomy of our bodies together- especially my dad's, his body, his relentless body.
this is my research; this is what i now know: the b
Jun 08, 2008 Kevin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Thing about Reading this Book is that . . . Someday You’ll be Finished

A near-terminal case.

Author David Shields runs this book along parallel and often intersecting tracks. One is a litany of facts regarding the birth, maturation and aging process. The other consists of reflections on his own life and, particularly, the life of his 97-year old father.

Not everyone will find this a novel; revelation (Hey – people age and die! Who knew???!) or a fascinating story.

The chapters offering straig
Jun 30, 2010 Fred rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The thing about this book is that sometimes it annoys. I actually decided to stop reading it when I was halfway through. But the other thing about this book is that often it's very interesting. Probably it's about half and half, and the half you like better (or the half you'll find annoying) will depend on what kind of writing you respond to.

There are roughly three modes of discourse in the book: the personal/family memoir, the straight scientific fact, and the liberal heaping doses of quotation
Feb 02, 2008 Jay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: your father
The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead by David Shields is a brilliant book of nonfiction prose. Go no further. Add to cart. Check out. Not convinced? Ok, how about this? David Shields meditates on the body’s ungraceful trek to death by considering his young daughter’s athleticism, his own waning physicality at middle age, and his father’s insatiable virility. Did I mention his father is 97? As in his other books of nonfiction (e.g., Remote & Enough About You: Adventures in Auto ...more
Jan 27, 2014 Allie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At times fascinating, at times boring, this book weaves the story of the author's father's life with the story of his own life with facts about life and death and quotes about life and death and last words of famous people and not-so-famous people. The main strength of the book was when it focused on death and presented tidbits and anecdotes in a creative, engaging way. The main weakness, in my opinion, was too many anecdotes from the author's life and family that were tiresome and only tangenti ...more
Dec 29, 2008 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audios
The book had a lot of interesting facts and ideas, but didn't really seem to get anywhere with it...except if you count the really groundbreaking point that people will die...but I guess I should have gotten that one by the title. I guess what I am saying is that with this book, you should judge it by its cover.
Michelle Bouchor
Apr 13, 2008 Michelle Bouchor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fairly well written book. It's just depressing to read about getting older. Also, I didn't really need to know that the author's penis is 6 inches long.
Jul 07, 2012 Nancy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Though I'm only about 50 pages into this nonsense, I can, with absolute certainty, say that Shields' "The Thing About Life is that One Day You'll Be Dead" is quite possibly one of the worst books I've ever encountered - and I've read all of the Twilight Series. The thing is, even in spite of the trite, predictable writing and Myers' deplorable characterization of Bella, Twilight still eclipses TTALITODYBD in its ability to weave a coherent, cogent linear plotline that, for the most part, makes s ...more
Biologist Steven Jay Gould said, “We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ...more
Christopher Payne
"The Thing about life is that one Day You'll be Dead" is the book by David Shields, the balding, middle aged writer who has pain in several parts of his body and is coming face to face with the one thing every man, woman and child on the planet shares, death. No matter how rich, or how poor, how gorgeous or how hideous, we all die. It is just the natural way of things. The circle of life is the inevitability that everyone must come to terms with. Some of us gracefully and some of us kicking and ...more
Apr 13, 2010 Susan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Mostly a litany of facts and statistics about life, aging, and death, many very interesting on their own, the most interesting aspect was what was written between the lines about the author's relationship to his own life and the life of his 97 year-old father. It made me wish the author had written a different book on the same subject - with more about why he seems to love his father and also wish his father would just hurry up and die already, why he seems compelled to independently investigate ...more
Mar 15, 2009 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sobering book at times, but also the book that made me realize I should start playing basketball again. Really, as I see it, I've got ten years left to play basketball and then a whole lot of years where it will no longer be possible.

The book is half-memoir and half meditation on death. I learned all kinds of interesting facts about death. Incidentally, the age of twenty-five is, in many respects, the peak of vitality. Our brains are as big and as active as they are going to be, both males an
Mar 13, 2011 Tammy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This humorous and immensely informative book follows the human life from birth to death. Told with self-deprecating humor, Shields frames the book both within his own middle-age ascendency along with his aged father who for so long seemed to defy the odds of dying.

Reading this book I often felt a sense of voyeurism, looking with morbid fascination at my own disturbing future unfolding before my eyes. Truly, it is not death I fear, but the dying. This book did little to disconfirm that fear; it o
Jun 03, 2008 Levi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I honestly can't decide how I felt about this book. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, based on a short excerpt that I had read, but of course that's not necessarily a bad thing. What it is is various bits of information about what happens to the human body as it matures, ages, and dies, interspersed with personal, memoir-type accounts of the author and his father, some of which careens a bit too far into the self-obsessed and solipsistic for my tastes (did we really need to know the size of ...more
Dec 19, 2008 Stephanie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am 3/4 of the way through this book, and the insertion of bodily decay facts has become intolerable. It's not cute after the first 20-30 pages. The narrator and the father are utterly unlikable in their own ways, although I must admit that some of the anecdotes are interesting, including the son playing bball and the father's early life. But at this point, I dislike the narrator so much that it is hard to go on. His whining obsession with his back pain and aging in general is obnoxious. I have ...more
The September book for my book group.

Way too many facts, way too much author angst, not to mention the author's issues with his father. Parts of this book were amusing, but much of it was boring. I know that everyone is going to die, but Shields could have told me that on page 1, and saved me having to slog through the next 224 pages. It does get two stars because it kept my interest enough so I didn't give up on it in the middle.

Consensus from our discussion today was, "this is an odd book".

Marcus Solberg
Somewhat strange book which consisted of Shields reflections on his own and especially his (long lived) fathers life, and mixed with a barrage of facts about ageing and dying. Some of the facts was somewhat interesting and some of the philosophical reflections about life was as well. However, mostly this felt like a quite slow and tedious read without much interesting stuff to make up for it. I would probably not recommend this book to anyone.
Aug 08, 2008 Cole rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shields book is packed with trivia and minutiae about what it means to be alive- and what it means to die. Some of these tidbits are interesting, but as a narrator, he is absolutely unbearable. He is smug, he rambles and he is apparently the most insecure person in history.

At first I was charmed by this book, but after page 50 I had to force myself to finish. Terrible.
Mar 08, 2009 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very odd book, but highly readable and fascinating. Lots of factoids about living and dying. A rant of love for his father and rage towards his father. Baseball, childhood, becoming strange amalgam of a book; but I couldn't put it down.
Sal Noel
Lots of facts (like that)
Lots of quotes (quite interesting)
and some anecdotes and reflections (some ok but parts I had to skip over-) and for the dreams and the baseball games I had to drop this to a 3 although I really quite enjoyed learning the ageing stuff.
An overall intriguing read - a nice blend of memoir and biological statistic reporting. Some awkward passages with frequent anecdotal over-sharing, but the theme of appreciating what you have in the time you have resonates with this reader.
But you may not want to die with this book on your lap. My preference, when that eventuality comes would be...maybe...Don Quixote.
Nov 20, 2016 Ani rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were a lot of facts, scientific, statistical, none of them cited--which bothered me. Some were really interesting, but how do I know it's true? What's the source? This listing of facts was tiresome. On the other hand I enjoyed the lists of quotes. Overall though, this was a book you could skim through. Some chapters were worth reading. Others not so much.
Barbara Mckenna
Oct 23, 2016 Barbara Mckenna rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is what happens when someone without a good understanding of science strings together an assortment of cherry-picked facts suggesting that correlation is causation, lists many quotes by famous authors and others as though that is writing, obsesses over sex, and bores us with details of his life and his father's life about which we do not care. Horrible.
Jul 03, 2012 Marc rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Often fascinating, thoroughly uneven read. Chronicle of human life, as an organism. Describes human development in meticulous, naturalistic details, from birth to death. More interesting than anything - Shields did his research, and it shows in the form of pages of quotations, anywhere from Sophocles to Woody Allen, and boundless raw facts about being human. Shields has a beautiful way of stating fact in simple poetic terms, that at its best reminded me of Brian Doyle's "Joyas Voladaris", with i ...more
May 21, 2009 Ken rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

So here I am, facing down 40 and feeling better physically and emotionally than I have in several years. The last thing I needed was to read this book, which I picked up because it has been designated as assigned reading for all first-year undergraduates at my school.

The Thing About Life is categorized by the publisher as a biography. As a biography, the book succeeds in fits and starts, with tenderly rendered passages about the author's childhood, and especially about his father, an interesting

Dec 29, 2011 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure what the author wanted this book to be. Sure, it's filled with fascinating facts and statistics following life from early childhood leading up until death. There are even more than a few interesting quotes from well-known people and then people I've never heard of (not that I am an authority on well-known people by any means). Some of the anecdotes and stories of the author and his father's past were marginally entertaining as well. Nonetheless, the link between all of these paralle ...more
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David Shields is the author of fourteen books, including Reality Hunger (Knopf, 2010), which was named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications. GQ called it "the most provocative, brain-rewiring book of 2010"; the New York Times called it "a mind-bending manifesto." His previous book, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (Knopf, 2008), was a New York Times bes ...more
More about David Shields...

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“My father reminds me that according to Midrash - the ever-evolving commentary upon the Hebrew scriptures - when you arrive in the world as a baby, your hands are clenched, as though to say, "Everything is mine. I will inherit it all." When you depart from the world, your hands are open, as though to say, "I have acquired nothing from the world.” 5 likes
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