“A lively, well-researched chronicle of the social and scientific forces that brought midlife America to its current befuddled state…”—Laura Shapiro, New York Times Book Review
“A brilliant, wide-ranging book…Cohen’s lively prose and thoughtful insights make this a joy to read.”—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
“In Our Prime is a fascinating study of this complex stage of life, a book whose appeal is likely to extend beyond the middle-age demographic to readers approaching or looking back on that key stage of life.”—Jerry Harkavy, Associated Press
“Very fine…lucid, straightforward and conversational… a thorough—and thoroughly fascinating—cultural history of aging.”—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
“A fascinating biography of the idea of middle age…solidly researched.”—Gail Sheehy, The New York Times
“With lively writing, astute observations, and extensive research, this cultural history looks well beyond cougars and Botox.”—Karen Holt, Oprah.com
“A thoroughly engaging cultural history…”—Christine Sismondo, Toronto Star
“In Our Prime is a fascinating biography of the ‘idea of middle age’ in American society…Comprehensively researched…A thoughtful inquiry.”—Tom Lavoie, Shelf Awareness
“A comprehensive look at middle age through the eyes of scientists, historians, psychologists, medical doctors, marketers and many more.”—Julie Carl, Winnipeg Free Press
“Witty and engaging…this comprehensive and entertaining social history highlights the possibilities of the middle years—and shows how middle age reflects the attitudes and customs of each generation that passes through it.”—Publishers Weekly
…a fascinating biography of the idea of middle age…[a] solidly researched book that finds its wide-ranging examples in the work of the Romantic poets, Trollope and Arthur Miller, as well as Bernice Neugarten, a pioneer in the study of adult development.
The New York Times
…nothing in the sometimes pathetic struggle of Americans over, say, 50 to claim a respectable place in the public consciousness puts Cohen in the grumpy mood she could so rightly claim after absorbing some 200 years of the history of middle age. Instead, she's delivered a lively, well-researched chronicle of the social and scientific forces that brought midlife America to its current befuddled statebetter off by most measures than any previous generation, but miserably out of fashion.
The New York Times Book Review
Those between the ages of 40 and 64 make up one-third of the U.S. population and control almost 70% of its net worth, making them the largest, wealthiest, and most influential segment of the country. Yet, as Cohen, a cultural reporter for the New York Times, shows, the idea of middle age is a relatively recent concept that emerged during America’s industrialization and urbanization; migrations to cities resulted in age- and occupation-related—not familiar—groupings. Tracing the “invention” of middle age alongside technological and scientific breakthroughs, this witty and engaging study synthesizes history, psychology, and the latest scientific research on the “middle-aged brain.” Cohen looks at the industries that have sprouted to understand and market to this cohort—the current ad campaigns and TV shows targeting the “alpha boomers,” who collectively spend more than .8 trillion annually—and how the new group has changed society, through readings of Carl Jung and Erik Erickson, whose work recognized middle age as a critical period of human life; the evolving attitudes toward middle-aged women; and the forces of self-improvement and mass consumption—hormone therapies, anti-aging drugs, plastic surgery—that contribute to the “Midlife Industrial Complex.” This comprehensive and entertaining social history highlights the possibilities of the middle years—and shows how middle age reflects the attitudes and customs of each generation that passes through it. (Jan.)
As those at the tail of the baby boom approach age 50, New York Times culture reporter Cohen lays out the history and current conditions of midlife, from the mid-19th century to the present. Framed by the large-scale, ongoing research project Midlife in the United States, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, her book addresses the "midlife crisis" (largely fictitious or misidentified), the boom of anti-aging "self-improvement" industries, and gaps between myth and media portrayals and everyday reality regarding health, sexuality, and economic power. Our concept of middle age is persistent but ill-defined (Cohen notes that those who learned of her research topic inevitably asked, "When is it?"). Today's adults make choices that belie age-based descriptions of life stages. The digital revolution, multiplication of media outlets, and diversification of the population guarantee that contemporary Americans' midlife experiences will be heterogeneous. From generation to generation, middle age less defines its constituents than is defined by them. VERDICT This is an illuminating social history for students, social scientists, and all those who wonder whether they are middle-aged.—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus
New York Times culture reporter Cohen looks at how the concept of middle age has changed from the 1860s, when it was first recognized as a discrete period of adult development, to the present day. To understand the forces involved, the author interviewed social scientists and neurologists, TV producers, film directors, actors, advertisers and pharmaceutical-company executives. Before beginning her social history, however, Cohen takes readers inside the University of Wisconsin's Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, where researchers at an NIH-funded project called Midlife in the United States are building a comprehensive database on middle-aged Americans, and where the author had her own brain scanned in a fMRI machine. Her highly readable history of the concept of middle age stresses two themes. One is the difficulty of defining middle age: when it happens, how long it lasts and whether it is viewed positively or negatively. The other is the interaction of faith in self-improvement and the power of the marketplace, which has had a powerful effect on the public's perception of the middle years. Cohen describes the phenomenon she dubs the "Midlife Industrial Complex" and its promotion of products--sex aids, human growth hormones anti-aging creams--and procedures such as plastic surgery, which can ameliorate the supposed afflictions of middle age. Even movies and TV come under her scrutiny as she examines the differences between how men and women in midlife have been depicted. The good news is that the spending power of the baby boomer demographic means that the marketplace's approach to midlifers is changing for the better. Early on, Cohen writes that that "the twenty-first century belongs to the middle-ager." By the book's end, however, the take-home message is more sober--the meaning of middle age changes with every generation, and what it will be in the future remains unknowable. A cool, well-documented account that puts the concept of middle age into historical context.