What Steele more or less assumes is that such a future is desirable — after all, he says, who would invent ageing if we didn’t already have it? So don’t expect a philosophical debate about the nature of humanity or a demographic chapter on the population effects. And don’t expect an easy read. For a manifesto it’s tough going for the layperson. It’s not really the casual reader he wants to convince.
As Andrew Steele points out in his absorbing guide to the latest scientific thinking on growing old, Galapagos tortoises display what’s called ‘negligible senescence’. They don’t suffer the debilitating health consequences of old age. Harriet would have been as perky in the first years of the 21st century as she was when Queen Victoria was on the throne.
Steele uncovers just how close we really are to cracking the curse of old age. We’re within a few generations of being able to slow and arrest the ageing process, prolong lifespans and eradicate a host of biological evils which have haunted humankind throughout our existence. For that alone, Steele deserves plaudits.
It is Steele’s job here to explain why we should treat those “seeds” as a disease, rather than a divinely determined limit. In the course of that explanation Steele gives us, in effect, a tour of the whole of human biology. It’s an exhilarating journey, but by no means a pretty one: a tale of senescent cells, misfolded proteins, intracellular waste and reactive metals. Readers of advanced years, wondering why their skin is turning yellow, will learn much more here than they bargained for.