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Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

3.25  ·  Rating details ·  5,512 ratings  ·  1,077 reviews
Bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich explores how we are killing ourselves to live longer, not better.

A razor-sharp polemic which offers an entirely new understanding of our bodies, ourselves, and our place in the universe, Natural Causes describes how we over-prepare and worry way too much about what is inevitable. One by one, Ehrenreich topples the
Kindle Edition, 257 pages
Published April 10th 2018 by Twelve
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C.J. Shane I'm a big fan of Ehrenreich because she can be counted on to write about the experience of poor people vs. the more affluent in a deeply meaningful wa…moreI'm a big fan of Ehrenreich because she can be counted on to write about the experience of poor people vs. the more affluent in a deeply meaningful way. However I do see gaps in her experience and understanding. My reading leads me to think that Ehrenreich tends to dismiss meditation as an other fad in the west in which most practitioners dabble in. She never seriously addresses the practice or the results of meditation in this book. Her mentions of Buddhism are few and far between and very superficial. In my review of her book Living with a Wild God, I saw a similar lack of understanding about the creative experience of artists. The "shifts in perspective" that she viewed as mentally aberrant in her own experience is "normal" to a lot of artists. She has gaps in her knowledge. I believe a deep knowledge of meditation and mindfulness falls in that gap category.(less)
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Start your review of Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer
Leah Lucci
(heads-up: this book is coming out April 10th. I read it early in exchange for an honest review.)

If Natural Causes were an essay, it would open with a thesis statement like: "Health trends are faddish and often counterproductive to a long and pain-free life. Many 'healthy' things we do -- including things licensed medical doctors do -- are tradition-based and scientifically unfounded. We need to carefully figure out how to treat ourselves from an objective and rational standpoint."

However, this
One of my favourite jokes involves a person saying that they want to die like their grandfather, peacefully and in his sleep, not screaming and terrified like the passengers in the car he was driving. I read a few years ago that doctors aren’t allowed to write that you died of natural causes on your death certificate any more, even if you are 120 years old. You always have to die of ‘something’. And since you will have died of cancer or dementia or heart failure that also means that if you hadn’ ...more
Diane S ☔
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative and Illuminating. This author has a doctorate in cellular immunology, so one can expect quite a bit on the role of the different cells within our bodies. Some of this was quite dense but I believe I did understand most of what she was explaining. That our cells have different functions and can also turn on us. This section of the book, which was in the last half, was not my favorite. I loved her explanation and witticisms on the self help industry, and the ways we are mislead, or han ...more
Nov 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eh. Feels rushed and not well thought out. The overall subject is interesting but not the approach here.
Miranda Reads
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook

Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life.
So, this one goes into understanding what exactly is behind a "natural cause" death and just about everything between life and the great beyond.

And for the most part, this one was okay.

It had a lot of interesting stuff in it...but the book did feel a bit scattered, and I think that's why I couldn't connect to it in the w
Michael Perkins
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing


Just re-read this book, focusing on the science in it, specifically human biology. If you don't read those sections closely you will not understand the rest of the book, in fact the rest of the book may annoy you if you don't understand the scientific basis for it.

Not only is the human body not a product of "intelligent design," it is also not a product of evolutionary genius. As scientists have learned more about the cellular level o
We can, or think we can, understand the causes of disease in cellular and chemical terms, so we should be able to avoid it by following the rules laid down by medical science: avoiding tobacco, exercising, undergoing routine medical screening, and eating only foods currently considered healthy. Anyone who fails to do so is inviting an early death. Or to put it another way, every death can now be understood as suicide.

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of Barbara Ehrenreich's Natural Causes,
Ivonne Rovira
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ivonne by: NetGalley
Author Barbara Ehrenreich has produced some fabulous, must-read books: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America and Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them.

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer begins with Ehrenreich (now 76) explaining why she doesn’t get mammograms or Pap smears or annual exams: “I gradually came to realize that I was old
I pondered nearly an entire day deciding if I was going to give this book a 2 star or a 3 star. 2.5 stars rounded up for the core of the accuracy to her overall "outlook" upon aging and death in the USA. And also that we are highly "over-doctored". Most of the evidence is anecdotal in this book, but regardless- a great deal of it IS true. Especially in the nuance of how aging (both women AND men too) humans who are over 66 or maybe 70 years of age are encouraged for "optimal" health care treatme ...more
(2.5) A decade ago, Barbara Ehrenreich discovered a startling paradox through a Scientific American article: the immune system assists the growth and spread of tumors, including in breast cancer, which she had in 2000. It was an epiphany for her, confirming that no matter how hard we try with diet, exercise and early diagnosis, there’s only so much we can do to preserve our health; “not everything is potentially within our control, not even our own bodies and minds.” I love Ehrenreich’s Smile or ...more
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Barbara Ehrenreich, a renowned investigative journalist, political and social critic, author of 23 books has written Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying and Killing Ourselves To Live Longer. Ehrenreich is extremely critical of the health, fitness and wellness craze that has filtered into nearly every aspect of life. Independent examination and questioning medical experts and advice was encouraged, along with the social and cultural forces that influence individual and ...more
1 Star

**My #1 worst read of 2018**

ARC provided by Twelve Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. And honest it shall be.

My expectations for this book were of an insightful, well-researched look at how society handles aging and death. Ehrenreich is a well-known author, successful, and educated. But Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer is one of the biased books I have ever read. It’s a hostile rant lacking in facts thr
David Wineberg
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Reductionist is IN

With too much time on our hands, we are obsessed with ourselves. Barbara Ehrenreich visits the catalog of diets, wellness, mindfulness, religion, movements, medicine and idiotic fads that preoccupy so many. Eternal youth, eternal life, and managed death are all symptoms. Taking the view from above, it is of course of no moment in the ongoing universe.

We want to think we can beat the odds and maybe even death. Certainly deterioration is ripe for conquering. So we work out, e
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
What an illuminating and thought-provoking book! Author Barbara Ehrenreich poses a seminal question. How much time and effort should we devote to pursuits to extend our lives? The answer, it turns out, is less than we have been led to believe in recent years by the ever growing and exceeding profitable “wellness” industry. The book presents an antipodean view based on scientific evidence which depicts a more dystopian understanding of the body. A view, I would argue, that was already highly acce ...more
Splendid, precise, no-bullshit assessment of which age-prolonging techniques are worthwhile. Ehrenreich has no tolerance for victim blaming. Her Ph.D. in cell biology serves her well.

In short: eat more vegetables, exercise, expect some pain as you age, and don't assume that health professionals always know what's best. Keep an open mind, do research, and think carefully before committing to an operation or other procedure (or even the latest diet craze). Understand that the longest life may not
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Barbara Ehrenreich, who has bravely taken on minimum wage in her classic book, Nickel and Dimed, now takes on all the buzz-worries of my Baby Boomer generation in her book, Natural Causes. I was fascinated with her take on screenings and annual exams: unnecessary, all. This is not just her opinion, mind you; this is what science is telling us. Fascinating. And why haven't I read this before now?

Probably just me, but I loved this sentence: "Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that
Hank Stuever
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable -- if prolonged -- tract from one of our last, true, highly regarded crabs. And just the thing for a certain reader facing 50.

I've been reading Barbara so long I feel like I'm on a first-name basis with her. I almost always agree with her clear line of thought and her mistrust of all the B.S. directed our way from all directions. She'll be forever known for "Nickel and Dimed," but I think she's fought the longer game against a more pervasive undermining of the human spirit, which wa
Kaethe Douglas
Uneven. Some excellent points and some nonsense. Mostly there's an unexpected level of credulity about weird stuff, and some strange places where she seems to miss the point entirely.

Not up to the standards she has set with Nickled and Dimed, but not a waste, either.

Library copy
Barbara Ehrenreich turns commonplace medical and scientific assumptions on their head in this fascinating, far-reaching exploration of how we understand health. From the immune system's role in causing — not fighting — cancer to evidence of "cellular decision making," she breaks down recent scientific discoveries, exploring their philosophical and practical implications. With a dizzying scope, the book touches on the politics of medicalized birth, the absurdity of corporate wellness programs and ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer starts out in fine Barbara Ehrenreich form, expanding on the lengthy title to skewer the longevity industry (eat yogurt/do brain games/join a gym), and the medical professions as well, as they become more and more focused on providing more services that can generate profits than on services that will actually do the patient any good. Then the book becomes more scientific as Ehrenreich, who has a ...more
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Grand Central Publishers, 257 pages

There is a scene in the movie A Ghost Story in which an earnest young man expounds upon human vanity and the meaningless of humanity within the cosmos. Nothing will endure, he notes, not great art, individual achievement, reputation, or the solar system itself. We all die and at some point the sun will flame out, the galaxy will implode, and all t
Natural Causes was a book I needed right now. I had recently read an article excerpted from the book arguing that the cons of preventive screenings can outweigh the pros and that we should concentrate more on enjoying living than trying to live longer. Even if you do everything right like eat well and exercise, that doesn’t guarantee good health to an advanced age. The book goes more into detail on the science behind how our cells age and how our immune systems can attack our own body. Then the ...more
Nov 06, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-pink, nfn2018
1.5. This book is all over the place. If I could sum up - we all die regardless and she's mad about it, so she's blaming medicine and science. Side trip into her anger at the immune system for not fitting the pattern of "good" she wishes to assign and pearl clutching over what is essentially chaos theory as seen in biological systems. The part on macrophages was interesting and garnered the 1.5 stars here.

Basically, Barbara sounds like Grandpa Simpson ranting. She starts out with a premise that
May 09, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Disappointed. I really liked two other books that this author wrote but found this one to be somewhat of a rant against our culture (not that I disagree). She gives us lots of information but somehow it didn’t seem to all tie together into anything, so I found myself skimming faster and faster until I just had to put it down, which I regret because I’m thinking there might have been something interesting hidden in there...somewhere.
Stacey Camp
**4.5 Goodreads Stars**

"In the health-conscious mindset that has prevailed among the world's affluent people for about four decades now, health is indistinguishable from virtue, tasty foods are 'sinfully delicious,' while healthful foods may taste good enough to be advertised as 'guilt-free.' Those seeking to compensate for a lapse undertake punitive measures like fasts, purges, or diets composed of different juices carefully sequenced throughout the day.

I had a different reaction to aging:
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received an ARC from because I sometimes write shelf-talkers for them. This is my honest review that I am sending them.

I'm a Barbara Ehrenreich fan, but I think that many readers would be better off if they skipped chapters 1-5. It's a repetitive polemic, especially for people who have already read her earlier book, Bright-Sided. Making fun of GOOP is like shooting fish in a barrel. If you keep up with the news about evidence-based medicine, you won't learn an
Peter Geyer
Barbara Ehrenreich has been around for a while: it's instructive that this book identifies her as the author of Nickel and Dimed, as a kind of selling point, or point of recognition, depending on your perspective. Natural Causes continues a couple of themes evident in what I've read of her work: issues relating to the status and treatment of women; the nature of what might be called public health including related scientific and other research claims; aspects of the self-help industry, particula ...more
Carrie Poppy
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jun 03, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read Barbara Ehrenreich's brilliant book Nickel and Dimed, awhile back, wrote a glowing review, and rated it 5 stars. Sadly, Natural Causes will not get the same treatment from me. The best part of the book is that I am now finished!!! Don't be fooled by the humorous graphic of the treadmill-running, Grim Reaper on the cover, or the words "funny and caustic" on the dust jacket. This is NOT a "fun" read!!! It is DEATH, DEATH, DEATH, in your face... and its inevitability... on all 209 pages! Ehr ...more
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: self-help, nonfiction
One thing is for certain (well, two if you count taxes): none of us get out of life alive. Period. Ehrenreich builds a case for wise, life-enriching choices regarding the medical, wellness, and fitness choices we make. After all, no matter how much iron you pump or kale you eat, you cannot control your amazing and not-always-on-your-side body. Cells go rogue. Diseases happen.

This is a counter-narrative to the stay-young messages that drive people to extremes. Ehrenreich has a Ph.D. In cellular
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Barbara Ehrenreich is an American journalist and the bestselling author of sixteen previous books, including the bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harpers and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time Magazine.

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“You can think of death bitterly or with resignation, as a tragic interruption of your life, and take every possible measure to postpone it. Or, more realistically, you can think of life as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and seize it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us.” 15 likes
“If there is a lesson here it has to do with humility. For all our vaunted intelligence and complexity, we are not the sole authors of our destinies or of anything else. You may exercise diligently, eat a medically fashionable diet, and still die of a sting from an irritated bee. You may be a slim, toned paragon of wellness, and still a macrophage within your body may decide to throw in its lot with an incipient tumor.” 7 likes
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