The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives Hardcover – 25 Feb. 2016
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
An elegant mix of science and human drama, The Life Project was - by a considerable measure in my view - the best science book published this year (Robin McKie, Best Science Books of 2016 Observer)
Highly enjoyable ... Reading this book has reminded me of how much we owe to birth cohorts and their participants ... Delightful (Kate Pickett author of The Spirit Level)
Fascinating ... [The Life Project lays] devastatingly bare the collapse of social mobility in the past few decades (Dominic Sandbrook Daily Mail)
Intriguing ... [A] fine, detailed book (Jenni Russell, 'Must Reads' Sunday Times)
[An] eye-opening book ... Part scientific narrative and part postwar social history, along with some fantastically cut-throat academic politics ... A very British success story (Isabel Berwick Financial Times)
Fascinating (Alice Jones Independent)
The Life Project is in many ways a very British story ... Absorbing ... A tribute to Helen Pearson's skill as a writer (Keith Kahn-Harris Independent)
[The Life Project] is hugely engaging, and gives much to chew on (Nick Curtis Evening Standard)
Fascinating ... A cogent exploration of Britain's groundbreaking birth-cohort studies ... The Life Project does a great service in bringing them and the people at their heart to life (Andrew Steptoe Nature)
About the Author
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Before opening the book I had no idea what a cohort study was. I'm familiar with the word "cohort" so I could probably take a stab in the dark as to what it meant, but I was blissfully unaware of just how much cohort studies have shaped the world I live in today.
In the book, Pearson charts the course of four comprehensive studies of people's lives, starting with the first in 1946 and culminating with the most recent in the year 2000. Along the way she tells us the stories of the social scientists, doctors, midwives, health visitors, politicians and ordinary people who made these studies what they are, hugely influential sources of data that, in the intervening years, have influenced so many aspects of life in the UK that it is hard to overestimate their importance.
The earliest study was born from the need to find out why the fertility rate was falling. Was having a baby too expensive for many women? After trying to answer this question (which I shall not call "simple") the concept of cohort studies has grown and blossomed through several generations, but not without difficulties. Funding and public interest wax and wane, and politicians distort the studies' findings to further their own political careers.
And each study always points to the same disappointing result; if you are born into difficult circumstances, you will have a difficult life. "The birth cohorts hold a mirror up to Britain, and sometimes we don't like what we see."
The book is less about the cohorts and more about the efforts needed to get each cohort of the ground, and to maintain momentum as the cohorts grew older, along with their founders; the baton has had to be passed between generations of scientists, against the backdrop of fickle government interest and perennially limited resources. Indeed, this is real insight into the challenges of conducting longitudinal studies. The challenges are immense. Part of it is scarcity of resources but also the nature of science changes. Improvements in measurements can be a boon because one can in theory know more but also a bane because they can generate immense amounts of data, making the task of interpretation more demanding and difficult.
Yet, despite everything. they have been sustained because scientists of sufficient calibre, drive, dedication have stepped up to the plate to keep the studies going. It has certainly been worth their while, despite the setbacks. Medical care has improved on the back of these studies. We have also seen how the nation’s health challenges have changed. Unsurprisingly, the 1970s cohort, in middle age, is fatter and lazier than their predecessor were in their own middle years (so far, I have managed to avoid piling on the pounds!)
A thread running through these studies is that politics is never far away. Class and socio-economic disadvantage are perennial issues. Living standards have risen across the board but relative disadvantage persists. The studies show that the more materially disadvantaged you are, the harder it is to succeed but the quality of parenting can buck the trend. Predictably, David Cameron made much of this in 2010. Well, he would have said that, wouldn’t he? The data suggest that parenting can make up 50 per cent of the gap between the advantaged and advantaged but nowhere near enough to close it. Still, agency is not irrelevant. The science here cannot help but get inextricably tangled up with politics.
British scientists have made huge contributions to human knowledge and have been pioneers in all manner of fields. That includes cohort studies, increasingly popular around the world. This book does these unsung heroes - the leaders and the participants - of our nation the justice they deserve.