The Book of Immortality

The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever, Adam Leith Gollner, Scribner.

What does it mean to be immortal? Adam Leith Gollner’s answers—presented in this inquisitive and often hilarious book, a heavily researched work that explores all manner of religions and beliefs—may surprise you. We all hold specific views in regard to aging and death, and the end will come for all of us. In “The Book of Immortality,” Gollner details the various ways that one comes to accept this fact or hide from it.

The most surprising aspect of “The Book of Immortality” is Gollner’s ability to balance research and entertainment. An early chapter on a meeting with a former professor is an example of the author’s commitment to offering a unique and refreshing perspective on the subject. Just as Gollner examines the essence of water as our “life force,” it is his natural storytelling that is the life force of the book. Gollner digs deep to communicate the personal aspect of his research and takes the reader on a journey as he travels the world in search of an understanding of how far people will go to evade death.

Gollner produces many fantastic stories, but a few stand above the rest. The first involves a meeting with the aforementioned professor, the late Father Marc Gervais (a Canadian Jesuit priest, film scholar, and writer), which reminds the reader that one can believe anything about immortality, yet one need not communicate those beliefs to others. The force is with you. Immortality is what you make of it. In the Gervais chapter, Gollner comes to grips with his past and is confronted by the profundities of a man about to reach the end.

And it’s not often that one gets to visit the private island of David Copperfield (Musha Cay, in the Bahamas), and question the famous magician about the Fountain of Youth. Gollner’s recollections about one entertainer’s quest to remain young will have you crying from laughter but also contemplating the proverbial and elusive fountain. The author never goes out of his way to mock Copperfield; he simply recounts what one experiences when calling on a multi-millionaire whose career is based on deception.

The most disturbing chapter of the book revolves around Gollner’s experience at a Year 2068 party, thrown by a group of radical life-extensionists in Huntington Beach, California. The well-to-do guests (including prominent immortality theorist Aubrey de Grey), mingle with each other in character and discuss their lives leading up to the year 2068. This chapter—and others on ego and absurdities—stand in contrast to his meeting with Father Gervais, who expressed the power of belief (as opposed to the 2068 group, which has its focus on entertainment and money).

Gollner also discusses historical figures who claimed to have the answer for death, but ultimately succumbed to our timeless enemy. But is death really our enemy? Are we looking in the wrong places when it comes to immortality? Gollner’s final chapters allow one to reflect on the life force within each one of us, and how we approach what we will never know.