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The Book of Ages by Desmond Morris

July 4, 2015

TBOAI see this book as being about ‘spirituality’ because I have used it in two circumstances:

1 on my birthday each year I look at who did what at the same age and review my own life’s progress in that light

2 I have used it with year assemblies to help pupils to do the dame thing.

This book celebrates each year of human life, from 0 to 100-plus–devoting a full spread to each, and describing growth and development, life expectancy, rites of passage and other appropriate psycho/physiological events. We read about of who, famous or infamous, suffered misfortune or achieved fame during that particular year: little Mozart playing the harpsichord at three, Thomas Macaulay voraciously reading, and John Stuart Mill learning Greek. Lots of film stars, TV folk, royalty, robbers, and romancers appear both in the text and pictures. Morris is a bit of a moraliser when it comes to the fate of early misfortune like Baudelaire, who died from an STD in his mother’s arms, having lived a life of notoriety, of hashish and opium, and “offenses against public morality.” Calamity Jane is quickly identified as a prostitute. Sirhan Sirhan may not really have killed Robert Kennedy. Queen Anne is the “dull, dowdy and devout monarch” who died at 49. The last entry is Shigechiyo Izumi of Japan recognised “as the oldest man who ever lived”.

Finally there are two pages of concluding remarks that Morris declares to be contradictory: there are similarities at all ages, but the human population is vastly varied. Morris’ recipe for ripe old age? An amalgam of good parents, good genes, good sense, good exercise. (Not dull, conscientious jogging or other boring pursuits.)

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