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No Country for Old Age: Rejuvenation in American History

Mischa Honeck

What do revolutionary-era renditions of the Phoenix, antebellum hydropathy, the West Cure, modern sunshine tourism, the rise of the cosmetics industry, racist demography, the counterculture of the 1960s, Viagra, and the Transhumanist Bill of Rights have in common? Molding these and other episodes into an original and timely narrative, No Country for Old Age tells the unknown story of rejuvenation in US history – of how aspirations to stay young were imagined, pursued, enacted, contested, and spurned by a diverse cast of characters. In seeking rejuvenation, Americans have sought not only to repair themselves, but also to regenerate the communities to which they belonged. At its core, this book is a cultural history of the United States that probes untapped connections between youth and aging, bodies and body politics, and the seemingly contradictory desire to recapture idealized pasts in order to possess brighter futures.

Rejuvenationists, whether they marched under the banner of science, public health, sexual invigoration, physical education, nation-building, or world peace, tended to cast their ventures in utopian colors. But their story does not proceed one a one-way track from trial to triumph, and this book is every bit as devoted to calculating the human costs associated with unlocking the secrets of unfading youth. From the Founders to today’s Silicon Valley elites, anti-aging schemes have time and again magnified inequalities of class, race, and gender, often projecting functionalist visions of society that were unmistakably racist, misogynist, and ageist. Critics rejected the scramble for youth wholesale, sensing an assault on the virtues of old age or, more disturbingly, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Today more than ever, we are experiencing rejuvenation’s Janus-faced legacy. As transhumanists rhapsodize about cyber-enhancing human bodies, ghastly pandemics, rising suicide rates, and shrinking life expectancies are poised to become the new normal for many twenty-first century Americans.   

No Country for Old Age is under contract and forthcoming with University of North Carolina Press.