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Losing It: In which an Aging Professor laments his shrinking Brain...


In Losing It, William Ian Miller brings his inimitable wit and learning to the subject of growing old: too old to matter, of either rightly losing your confidence or wrongly maintaining it, culpably refusing to face the fact that you are losing it. The “it” in Miller’s “losing it” refers mainly to mental faculties—memory, processing speed, sensory acuity, the capacity to focus. But it includes other evidence as well—sags and flaccidities, aches and pains, failing joints and organs. What are we to make of these ...

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In Losing It, William Ian Miller brings his inimitable wit and learning to the subject of growing old: too old to matter, of either rightly losing your confidence or wrongly maintaining it, culpably refusing to face the fact that you are losing it. The “it” in Miller’s “losing it” refers mainly to mental faculties—memory, processing speed, sensory acuity, the capacity to focus. But it includes other evidence as well—sags and flaccidities, aches and pains, failing joints and organs. What are we to make of these tell-tale signs? Does growing old gracefully mean more than simply refusing unseemly cosmetic surgeries? How do we face decline and the final drawing of the blinds? Will we know if and when we have lingered too long?

Drawing on a lifetime of deep study and anxious observation, Miller enlists the wisdom of the ancients to confront these vexed questions head on. Debunking the glossy new image of old age that has accompanied the graying of the Baby Boomers, he conjures a lost world of aging rituals—complaints, taking to bed, resentments of one’s heirs, schemes for taking it with you or settling up accounts and scores—to remind us of the ongoing dilemmas of old age. Darkly intelligent and sublimely written, this exhilarating and eccentric book will raise the spirits of readers, young and old.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune

"A stylish, effortlessly erudite and refreshingly clear-eyed essay about the dastardly — yet inevitable — fate of getting older."—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune, Best Books 2011

— Julia Keller

Wall Street Journal

"[Miller] is a prankster, a tease, an imp of the perverse, a digressor-transgressor. . .The claim could be made that not since Laurence Sterne's great 18th-century joke of a novel, Tristram Shandy, has any book been so well-founded on the slippery rock of digression."—Henry Allen, Wall Street Journal

— Henry Allen

The New Republic

“Miller has written an extravaganza of a book that could only have been produced by a remarkably adroit mind functioning at the very topmost top of its form. If he has lost nearly as much cortical circuitry as he asserts, there is no evidence of it here . . . . Even as he is claiming the onrush of debility, the graceful sound of his prose and its sly, wry insights betray him with an abundance of wit, wisdom, and erudition. I suspect that he wants it both ways: “See how I’m losing it, but see also how brilliant I continue to be.” Well, he most emphatically cannot have it both ways, so he’d better settle on the brilliant.”—Sherwin Nuland, The New Republic

— Sherwin Nuland


"Blackly funny and wonderfully thought-provoking…A raging screed directed less against the dying of the light than against any denial that the lamps—his, mine, yours—are indeed dimming all the time.”—Brian Bethune, Maclean's

— Brian Bethune

Times Higher Education Supplement

"[Miller's] vigorous pessimism is strangely liberating. . . At times Miller's determined miserabilism gets it so right that all one can do is sit back, revel in the shock of recognition, and laugh aloud."—Laurie Taylor, Times Higher Education Supplement

— Laurie Taylor

Publishers Weekly
"If old age is especially hard for that small group of the once attractive... it does great favors for the much larger group of humanity that is plain or ugly." Law professor Miller (The Anatomy of Disgust) takes target at the inevitable aging process, and finds much more humor than might be expected. After discussing the well-known impacts of aging on memory, he questions whether the acquisition of wisdom is fact or fiction before turning to what is obviously a finely-honed skill, complaining: "I have-perhaps you have too-cultivated a wince when I get in and out of chairs, just so people can appreciate how stoical I am." He chats about the inevitable death, concluding with his thoughts about "Going Out in Style." His leisurely pace and straight talk brings topics that are not always openly discussed into the realm of everyday conversation. Miller draws on mythology, literature, and film-from Icelandic sagas and the Bible to The Princess Bride-to illustrate and demonstrate the human relationship with aging and death over the centuries. Readers may turn to the book for contemplation or a much-needed laugh as they themselves continue the unavoidable journey.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews

Miller (Univ. of Michigan Law School; Eye for an Eye, 2005, etc.) makes the case that old age is indeed a bummer.

Following on his previous examinations of the human condition,Humiliation(1993) andThe Anatomy of Disgust (1997), the author's disdain for protestations that with age comes wisdom and greater happiness is understandable if not necessarily appealing. He addresses himself particularly to those who do not "suffer from incurable positive thinking and its attendant imbecility" and expresses contempt for "so-called positive psychology." The author, now in his mid 60s, gives an admittedly exaggerated account of his own slowing down, memory loss and distractibility with what some readers may find distressing detail, but he includes some great quips along with his grumpy complaints. Describing what he means by "losing it" with the onset of old age, he writes that "the process of losing it [is] more drawn out ... [than losing] a cell phone or virginity, each of which can be lost in mere seconds of thoughtfulness." In his opinion, research claiming that old folks are happier as they age simply corroborates his theory that the elderly have lost the capacity to judge. Making a minor concession, he suggests that perhaps "the modest pleasure...of having gotten through it all [can be] akin to the pleasure of no longer banging your head against the wall."

A nice combination of acerbic wit and erudition—the perfect complement to Susan Jacoby's Never Say Die (2011).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300188233
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 8/31/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 965,313
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

William Ian Miller is Thomas G. Long Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School. He lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Striking Out 1

Part I The Horror

1 The You behind Your Eyes Is Out of Date 13

2 Can You Recall What You Had for Dinner, Cronus? 22

3 Shrink Wrap 31

4 Old Views of Old Age 38

Part II Wisdom

5 Older, Yes, but Wiser? 49

6 The Dark Side of Wisdom 63

Part III Complaining

7 Homo Querelus (Man the Complainer) 79

8 Old Saints, Old Killers, and More Complaints 95

9 Complaining against the Most High 107

Part IV Retirement, Revenge, and Taking it With You

10 Giving Up Smoting for Good 127

11 Paralysis of the Spirit 141

12 Yes, You Can Take It with You 155

Part V Sentiments

13 Owing the Dead 177

14 Going Soft 187

15 Little Things; or, What If? 200

16 Defying Augury 210

17 Frankly, I Do Give a Damn 222

Part VI Redemption from the Pasture?

18 Going through All These Things Twice 231

19 Do Not Go Gentle: A Valediction 249

Addendum: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" 263

Acknowledgments 267

Notes 269

Bibliography 301

Index 317

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