Mortal Coil: A Short History of Living Longer

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 90%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (12) from $1.99   
  • New (3) from $7.34   
  • Used (9) from $1.99   


"Mortal Coil explores the medical, scientific and philosophical theories behind the quest for the prolongation of human life. It was a conundrum that intrigued Sir Francis Bacon and underpinned the scientific revolution; ideas of ultimate perfectibility, indefinite progress and worldly rather than heavenly immortality fed directly into the spirit of the Enlightenment and on into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In today's world of genetic research, cryonics and nanotechnology, we still seek the same elusive philosopher's stone." From Adam and Eve to human cloning and designer babies, from seventeenth-century lifestyle guides to science fiction, Haycock's narrative introduces an array of fascinating individuals, including Rene Descartes, Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Swift, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud and a score of unknown figures. Full of extraordinary stories and valuable insights, this is an exploration into our unceasing desire to live forever.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Author Haycock, a Greenwich-based historian of culture and medicine, surveys Western civilization's hopes and schemes for longevity over the past four centuries, beginning with the last days of Sir Francis Bacon (who caught a fatal chill while stuffing a dead chicken with snow, so that its viability "might be long preserved") and ending with Dr. Aubrey De Grey, whose current, controversial research into stem cells, he says, will eventually result in human lifespans of a thousand years or more. Along the way he writes about Benjamin Franklin, who delivered his famous "death and taxes" line just before his death (at 84), the longevity of characters from the Old Testament, Mary Shelley's vision of electric "reanimation," and a huge range of lesser-known figures obsessed with the mystery of the human life span-what's "natural," what's "impossible," what's "normal," and what can be done about it. According to Haycock, now in his 30s, chances are better than ever that he'll live to see the 22nd Century; his own book shows he may have some misplaced optimism, but he also has an entertaining read with lots of fascinating sidelights.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

From "powdered millipedes in butter" to cryonics, Haycock (curator, 17th-century imperial and maritime studies, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England) introduces readers to the life-extending tools and tricks suggested by Western scientists and philosophers from Elizabethan scholar Sir Francis Bacon through today's cutting-edge scientists. Crafting his narrative with scholarly expertise and an engaging sensibility, he includes the characters of the legendary "Old Parr," whose death in 1635 at the alleged age of 152 led to the honor of burial in Westminster Abbey, European alchemists who sought the elixir of life, eugenicists who tried to make humankind into their own intolerant images, surgeons who transplanted monkey glands with the aim of restoring virility to aging alpha males, and contemporary researchers who advocate freezing the dead for future revival or following a rigorous regimen of extreme calorie restriction. Haycock sensibly points out the ethical implications of multitudes, if some claims prove true, of 150-year-old senior citizens crowding the planet and offers time-honored recommendations for regular exercise, weight control, and moderate alcohol consumption. A serious look at an ancient and sometimes peculiar enthusiasm, this is recommended for larger public and academic libraries.
—Kathy Arsenault

The Dana Foundation
"A riveting account . . . of humans' search for the explanation of their mortality and the possibility of achieving immortality. . . . provides a unique view of a fundamental aspect of human existence, written in an easy-to-read yet thought-provoking manner."—The Dana Foundation
". . . an engaging history of scientific attempts to prolong life and youth from the 17th century to the present. . . . From alchemy to cryonics, attempts to reach immortality . . . [have] engaged leading scientists for the past 400 years. Highly recommended."—Choice
London Review of Books - Steven Shapin
“. . . a breezy and well-read survey of thinking about the possibilities of extending human life . . . a poignant history of fears and follies, of hubris and hope, of science and common sense: necessary reading . . .” —Steven Shapin, London Review of Books
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300158250
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/27/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David Boyd Haycock is Curator of Seventeenth-Century Imperial and Maritime Studies at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Previously a Wellcome Research Fellow in the History of Medicine at the London School of Economics, he is an established and prolific historian of culture and medicine.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)