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April 23, 1997

Crossing Frontiers: Gerontology Emerges as a Science

Author Affiliations

UCLA Center on Aging Los Angeles, Calif


by W. Andrew Achenbaum, 278 pp, $59.95, ISBN 0-521-48194-5, paper, $18.95, ISBN 0-521-55880-8, New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

JAMA. 1997;277(16):1328. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540400080044

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Professor Achenbaum has given us the first comprehensive history of gerontology. Although the book traces the origins of gerontologic thought in the last third of the 19th century, it focuses largely on 20th-century developments and events in the United States. It is highly readable, and its historical stories and biographies are useful and often heartwarming to someone like me who has been in, or in close touch with, gerontology and geriatrics from 1948 to the present.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on Elie Metchnikoff and Ignatz Nascher. Metchnikoff presented one of the first testable modern hypotheses on the mechanism of aging and also preached an "optimistic philosophy of senescence," asserting that "science could someday alleviate, if not eradicate, the ravages of age." Nascher coined the term "geriatrics," expressed a detailed vision of the nature of the medical specialty, and was a social reformer, evincing a profound concern for the misery