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Summary

"Offers a useful reminder of the role of modern science in fundamentally transforming all of our lives." (President Barack Obama, on Twitter)

"An important book." (Steven Pinker, The New York Times Book Review)

Now also a PBS documentary series: the surprising story of how humans gained what amounts to an extra life, from the bestselling author of How We Got to Now and Where Good Ideas Come From

As a species we have doubled our life expectancy in just one hundred years. All the advances of modern life - the medical breakthroughs, the public health institutions, the rising standards of living - have given us each about 20,000 extra days on average. There are few measures of human progress more astonishing than our increased longevity.

This book is Steven Johnson’s attempt to understand where that progress came from. How many of those extra 20,000 days came from vaccines, or the decrease in famines, or seatbelts? What are the forces that now keep us alive longer? Behind each breakthrough lies an inspiring story of cooperative innovation, of brilliant thinkers bolstered by strong systems of public support and collaborative networks.

But it is not enough simply to remind ourselves that progress is possible. How do we avoid decreases in life expectancy as our public health systems face unprecedented challenges? What current technologies or interventions that could reduce the impact of future crises are we somehow ignoring?

A study in how meaningful change happens in society, Extra Life is an ode to the enduring power of common goals and public resources. The most fundamental progress we have experienced over the past few centuries has not come from big corporations or start-ups. It has come, instead, from activists struggling for reform; from university-based and publicly funded scientists sharing their findings open-source-style; and from nonprofit agencies spreading new innovations around the world.

©2020 Steven Johnson (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

“A surprising look at why humans are living longer.... Entertaining, wide-ranging, and - in light of COVID-19 - particularly timely.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Fascinating.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“To call this timely would be something of an understatement.” (The Toronto Star)

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  • Jim Haynes
  • 20-05-21

A Extra Life for every reader

Just reading this book will not only add to your knowledge base but will make your extra life more meaning full.

4 people found this helpful

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  • MacGyver124
  • 14-06-21

Thought provoking

Steven Johnson provides thought provoking examination of the past as a prelude to the future of our species, our health and our world.

3 people found this helpful

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  • pjhatchett
  • 09-07-21

Profoundly interesting

I enjoyed this book. It held my interest with almost every word. A good read for the curious. There’s much to be learned about how far we’ve come in curing disease and possibly where we’re going. Fascinating stories and history I didn’t know. Highly recommended

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  • Antonio R.
  • 17-07-21

Must Read

Clear and concise. The juxtaposition of true heroes is well-stated. Alas, we are humans.

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  • Douglas
  • 22-06-21

Great

Great book very informative I really learned a lot thank you for the great research

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  • JFH
  • 13-09-21

A terrific book with lots of stuff I never knew

Johnson has done a wonderful job of telling why life expectancy as doubled since the mid 1830's. start with an English aristocrat who was based in Istanbul and learned the rest of the world had already discovered a cure for smallpox, which was then refined to the point that smallpox, once one of the major killers of mankind, has now been eradicated worldwide. Many other interesting stories, including the development of statistical methods that ended a cholera epidemic in London when traced back to a single well. Every chapter has dozens of stories I never heard before. And Johnson, unlike some other authors who insist on reading their own books, is a terrific story teller. Highly recommended.

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  • Mary H
  • 09-08-21

Fascinating but somehow grim?

This book traces the biggest advances in extending human life, especially in decreasing infant mortality, in public health, medicine and technology. But somehow he’s still pessimistic..?