In The Denial of Aging: Perpetual Youth, Eternal Life, and Other Dangerous Fantasies (Harvard Univ., $25.95), Muriel R. Gillick whacks all the major players orchestrating the Last Dance of America’s senior citizens. Medicare is misguided, she argues. Nursing homes are like prisons. Assisted living facilities are too often motivated by greed. Doctors (Gillick is a physician, by the way) are too willing to extend life at any cost. Relatives often have lousy judgment about what’s best for a loved one. Even those facing their own finality are too focused on themselves.
In The View From the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Universe (Riverhead, $26.95), the physicist Joel R. Primack and his wife, science philosopher Nancy Ellen Abrams, aim to pick up where Chown leaves off. Primack and Abrams argue that the explosive growth in our understanding of the universe has brought us to the to the brink of a revolution in cosmology similar to the one in physics after Sir Isaac Newton or in biology after Charles Darwin. The barrier, as they see it, is that the scientists leading us in this exploration are generally unwilling to accept the idea that humanity’s desire to make sense of our place in the cosmos is evidence that we are in fact at the center of it all.
Primack and Abrams argue that one of the key findings from science’s exploration of all things great and small is that man is right in the middle of the scale between the largest and smallest things in the universe. Their case is well-argued, if occasionally undermined by the introduction of concepts with fringe-sounding names like Cosmic Uroboros (for the size scale that places man at the center of the universe) and Midgard (the section of that scale where mankind exists). But given their goal of breaking down barriers between the modern and traditional understandings of the universe, the occasional odd-seeming concept is to be expected.