The Journey of Life: A Cultural History of Aging in America

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The Journey of Life is both a cultural history of aging and a contribution to public dialogue about the meaning and significance of later life. The core of the book shows how central texts and images of Northern middle-class culture, first in Europe and then in America, created and sustained specifically modern images of the life course between the Reformation and World War I. During this long period, secular, scientific and individualist tendencies steadily eroded ancient and medieval understandings of aging as a mysterious part of the eternal order of things. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, postmodern images of life's journey offer a renewed awareness of the spiritual dimensions of later life and new opportunities for growth in an aging society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'One could not ask for a more learned or compassionate guide to the mysteries of aging than Thomas R. Cole.' New York Times Book Review

'Thomas R. Cole's fascinating study, The Journey of Life, is not so much the history of aging per se, but of attitudes toward it and toward those to whom old age happens. It is therefore necessarily also about American attitudes toward the past and future and the underlying nature of wisdom. The book is exhaustive, its line of development persuasive. It reflects a continuing ambiguity and multiplicity of attitudes in society at every stage.' Boston Globe

'Cole makes a powerful case for the proposition that we can no longer afford the illusions about aging that we have inherited from the 19th century.' Christopher Lasch, University of Rochester

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Cole, an associate professor at the University of Texas, here explores the evolution of societal attitudes toward aging, gender and familial ideals from antiquity to the present, discussing both political and philosophical influences. He devotes a major portion of this excellent and accessible scholarly study to examining a wide variety of religious beliefs, many of which envision life as a spiritual pilgrimage. However, with the rise of secular individualism, today's ``scientific management'' of aging has prolonged the life span, Cole observes, and liberated older men and women of many burdens and duties. On the other hand, he contends, the elderly have been deprived of their traditional cultural roles, special functions and positions in society. Furthermore, he notes, with a youth-oriented culture that tends to consider aging a chronic disease, the spiritual aspects of growing old and of death as natural parts of the life cycle have been slighted. Illustrations. Jan.
Library Journal
What has it meant to be old? With the increasing interest in aging, medical and self-help books are crowding our shelves. This work challenges the assumption of value-free studies of aging and offers a critical evaluation of the meanings of aging in American society. Deftly interweaving religion, economics, gender, health trends, and science, Cole documents the period from the Reformation to post-World War I. Tracing the decline of religious values, the rise of the economic pressures of individualism, and the reliance on scientific management of health, he offers new insights into patterns of behavior. An excellent addition to the literature on aging, this book presents complex information in a clear and engaging style.-- Jan Blodgett, St. Mary's Cty. Records Ctr. & Archives, Leonardtown, Md.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521447652
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 8.03 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Table of Contents

List of illustrations; Preface; Introduction; Part I. The Ages of Life and the Journey of Life: Transcendental Ideals: 1. Aging in the Western tradition: cultural origins of the modern life course; 2. The aging pilgrim's progress in the New World; 3. 'Death without order': the late Calvinist ideal of aging; Part II. The Dualism of Aging in Victorian America: 4. Antebellum revivals and Victorian morals: the ideological origins of ageism; 5. Popular health reform and the legitimation of longevity, 1830–1870; 6. Aging, popular art, and Romantic religion in mid-Victorian culture; 7. In a different voice: self-help and the ideal of 'civilized' old age, 1850–1910; Part III. Science and the Ideal of Normal Aging: 8. The aging of 'civilized' morality: the fixed period versus prolongevity, 1870–1925; 9. Toward the scientific management of aging: the formative literature of gerontology and geriatrics, 1890–1930; 10. The prophecy of Senescence: G. Stanley Hall and the reconstruction of old age; Epilogue: beyond dualism and control - reflections on aging in postmodern culture; Index.

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