Category Archives: books

Extraordinary book – Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.”

I lived in India for a few months, working for United Press International back when there was a UPI, but I did not begin to grasp what I learned from reading Boo’s new book. There are a lot of people who write about poverty and social justice but few who really spend the time with poor people to understand what their lives are like on a day-to-day basis and the web of obstacles — both self-imposed and external — that prevent them from bettering their lives. Katherine Boo is one of them and she has produced an important and riveting accounting of a Mumbai slum that will stay with you regardless of your interest in India. Boo is a beautiful writer and her book is compulsive reading.  Chip McGrath did a profile of her in the Times, which you can read here and for the New York Times review, click here.


I’ll be at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival April 21

I decided to go out to the LA Book Festival after all. I’m going to be on a panel with another Times (that’s New York) staffer Charles Duhigg, as well as Barry Glassner and LA Times deputy book editor Nick Owchar. It’s on Saturday, 3 pm on the USC campus. Should I stay downtown or right by the campus. Decisions, Decisions…

“A Joy to Read” – What every author loves to hear

Somehow I missed this earlier review in the Boston Globe and it’s my new favorite. Kate Tuttle writes:

“At what age do you consider yourself middle-aged? In this brilliant, wide-ranging book, which its author calls “a biography of the idea of middle age,’’ one persistent theme is that the very definition of middle age, or midlife, is a moving target. All life stages are man-made, Patricia Cohen points out, and both specific categories and the broad ideas behind them are subject to influence by social, economic, scientific, philosophical, and aesthetic trends…. a story packed with surprising twists, masterfully told... Cohen’s lively prose and thoughtful insights make this a joy to read.

Kate, you’re my new BFF.


Kai Ryssdal interviews me on “Marketplace” tonight about the Midlife Industrial Complex and the marketing of middle age; in NYC at 6:30 pm. Tune in.


Gail Sheehy weighs in on my book in the New York Times:

 “Her book is a fascinating biography of the idea of middle age, “a story we tell about ourselves.” Today, more than ever, that story romanticizes the idea that the middle-aged wield enormous power while it also fetishizes the attributes of youth.

She contends that middle age is a “cultural fiction,” an elastic concept reinterpreted by every generation. Academics are already defining the years from 55 to 75 as a distinct category, with labels like “encore generation,” “third age,” or “midcourse.”

Given the vastly elongated life spans of healthy Americans, and the reproductive revolution, people today can afford to take longer to grow up and much longer to die. Ms. Cohen lets us know she could delay marriage until she was 39, choose pregnancy at 40, and still be thinking about what she wants to do when she grows up.

This is a rare personal reference in an otherwise 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 Book Store’s Last Stand?

Is Barnes & Noble, as the New York Times says,  the only thing “standing between traditional publishers and oblivion”? Given our family affinity for Strand Books, I have a vested interest in saying no. Even so, remember when B&N was the corporate bad guy? Publishers can still make money by selling e-books. What can’t are independent book stores.

Read Julie Bosman’s story in The New York Times:

“No one expects Barnes & Noble to disappear overnight. The worry is that it might slowly wither as more readers embrace e-books. What if all those store shelves vanished, and Barnes & Noble became little more than a cafe and a digital connection point? Such fears came to the fore in early January, when the company projected that it would lose even more money this year than Wall Street had expected. Its share price promptly tumbled 17 percent that day.”


Now you can pre-order at The Strand and Amazon

I write about culture, ideas, books, theater, psychology, education and assorted other topics for The New York Times. My first book, In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age is being published by Scribner in January 2012. Although the middle-aged make up the biggest, richest and most influential segment of the country, its history has remained largely untold.  In Our Prime is a biography of the idea of middle age from its invention in the late nineteenth century to its current place at the center of American society, where it shapes the way we view our family, our professional obligations, and our inner lives. The book ranges over the entire landscape of midlife, exploring how its biological, psychological and social definitions have shifted from one generation to the next. Middle age has swung between being an emblem of power and wealth, and a symbol of decline. Explaining why, I take readers from turn-of-the-century factories that refused to hire middle-aged men to high-tech laboratories where researchers are currently conducting cutting-edge experiments on the middle-aged brain and body. I trace how middle age has been depicted in movies, advertisements, books, and TV shows: the sportscar-buying husband, the frigid housewife, the predatory cougar, and the first-time parent. I uncover the origins of myths like the midlife crisis and empty nest syndrome, and investigates middle-age medical procedures from monkey gland transplants to human growth hormones, estrogen therapy, Viagra, Botox, and facelifts. The book also reveals the inner workings of the “Midlife Industrial Complex,” a trillion-dollar economy that serves both Boomers and Gen Xers.

Combining extensive research with original reporting, In Our Prime will compel readers to re-examine deeply held assumptions about a topic they think they already know.