THE BLUE ZONES - Lessons for Living Longer from the People who've Lived the Longest
Author: Dan Buettner
Publisher: National Geographic 2008
THE BLUE ZONES offers insights into longevity in a book written in the reporting style of a prime time TV program. The book titles comes from the fact that one of the first persons to identify places with unusually high populations of centenarians, marked the place in blue on a map - hence the name, Blue Zones.
The author, Don Buettner, traveled to THE BLUE ZONES, areas of the world where centenarians, are a statistically significant proportion of centenarians in relation to the total population. On each trip he brought a number of scientists and the group attempted to identify the specific 'characteristics of life' that could account for the longevity of the inhabitants.
Exactly where are these Blue Zones? In Italy it is in Sardinia. In Japan it is Okinawa. The United States has its blue zone in Loma Linda, California and Costa Rica has one in the Nicoya peninsula. What maybe of particular interest to readers is that two of these regions are known for MALE centenarians and not just females. Both , Sardinia and Nicoya are places where men enjoy great longevity.
The first chapter of THE BLUE ZONES explains how the author got interested in this topic. This is followed by chapters based on his visits to each of the areas. The final chapter offering some practical advice to readers who may wish to establish strong functional longevity in their own lives.
Will you enjoy reading this book? I am not sure. It certainly offers information about life style: food, activity, social connections and a sense of purpose (meeting a real need and contributing to one's community) that seems to underlie the longevity factor among the people. (Yes, genetic factors are addressed but that is not a main focus in the book.)
The authors seems to be at pains to let the reader know how many scientists accompanied him on each visit and how many provided insight or information for the project. But for me, this aspect of the writing seemed to 'get in the way'.
If this was meant to be a scientific book, then the specific observations, charts and conclusions of the scientists should have been presented and the narratives and conversations with individual centenarians should have been positioned as anecdotes. But that is not the case.
Instead the focus is on setting - what the landscape is like, how hard it is to journey there (except for the USA Blue Zone), and reports of visits with a single centenarian in each area. One wonders why this centenarian rather than another was chosen - are they always the oldest? are they the one who happens to be available? or do they have some reputations as being 'special' or somewhat of a 'character'?
Given the author's focus it might have been more appropriate to append a few pages at the end of each chapter that gave the names, affiliate and relevant publications of each scientist instead of including the information in each chapter. Such a section could have also included some of the observations or comments from each scientist who participated in the trip to a particular Blue Zone.
As it stands the sort of 'isn't this interesting travel like narrative' is the only voice in the narrative. What may be been really effective in a T.V. special, seems a bit 'off putting' when used in a book which has none of the film images to distract the reader.
So, this is a 'light book'. The people highlighted are interesting. You will pick up some background about life in areas of the world. There is a modest bibliography and a good index. But I am not sure that this is a book you will put on your reference shelf to consult later. Nor am I certain that like, Growing Younger Next Year that it will, by itself, persuade you to make specific changes in your life style.
Is it worth reading? Yes. I think you will enjoy it, if you can get past the TV narrative style. And if you are thoughtful, you may find some things in the lives of the centenarians presented that they author does NOT seem to notice - and this will leave you with the feeling that there is more to this aging with grace and living with longevity that has been discovered yet. Click here for Amazon copies of: