"In her book, Ms. Jacoby serves as a reality instructor. Bad news flows from her as profanity from a rap group," wrote Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal ("Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive," 1/29/11). "Imagine a modern-day Cassandra but one ticked to the max."
OK, Never Say Die isn't for everybody. Sheeesh, if neither the NYT nor the WSJ liked it, perhaps it isn't for anybody. But don't quit reading yet (I promise to keep this short). Though I agree with Messrs Fishman (aged 52 at time of writing) and Epstein (aged 74) about Ms. Jacoby's style (she is now 66), I still think she offers some insights that we neglect at our great peril (I'm 63):
1. When AARP magazine and self-help books dispense relentlessly upbeat advice and unfailingly inspirational stories, they focus almost entirely on the "young old" - people in good health in their 60s and 70s. Rarely do they look at the "old old" - people in failing health and/or over age 85, when fully 50% have Alzheimer's disease. Boomers who believe that the optimistic sources are giving an accurate picture of old age are in for a big shock.
2. To the extent that we live in a dream world in which old folks are happy and healthy until they suddenly, painlessly drop dead (while parachuting out of an airplane, perhaps, or in the midst of wild sex), we will not as a society provide for the real-life needs of real-life old people and their exhausted caregivers.
3. If we want to continue providing adequate health care for seniors, we're going to have to provide adequate health care for everyone else too. People will not vote to pay Grandma's medical bills if they can't pay their own.
Check out Susan Jacoby's short Newsweek column, "The Myth of Aging Gracefully" (1/30/11), for a preview of her position. Here's a sample paragraph from chapter 7 in Never Say Die, "Greedy Geezers and Other Half-truths":
The myth of young old age, which simultaneously overestimates the earning potential and underestimates the needs of the dependent old old, also poses a major impediment to any serious, reality-based discussion of social justice for both old and young. Healthy old old age is costly, and unhealthy old old age is even costlier. If, as a society, we see longevity as a good thing, then we're going to have to pay for it. But all we are hearing from public officials, now that the brief period when conservatives could use the health care debate to prey on the fears of the elderly has passed, is how to pay less to support longer lives. If there really were such a thing as a radically new brand of old age in which everyone can take care of himself or herself, there would be no reason to worry. Society would be off the hook. The boomers - healthy beneficiaries of this wonderful new old age - would surely be able to tote that barge and lift that bale until the very end.