Picks and Pans Review: The Fountain of Age

updated 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Betty Friedan

Like Tracy Kidder, feminist pioneer Betty Friedan also explores old age in an important new book, but from a more personal perspective. Upon completing this 653-page work, one stunning image lingers: that of The Feminine Mystique author, 72, spread-eagled on a North Carolina mountain cliff, gripping the smooth rock and stubbornly refusing to give up until she reaches the top.

Older (and younger!) readers will be reassured to learn that Friedan does not require signing up, as she did, for an Outward Bound survival expedition in order to prove their worth. Early on she makes the point that any scientific dicta regarding what we consider "old age" must be held suspect. As recently as the turn of this century, most Americans could not expect to live beyond their 40s. New research indicates that there is no inevitable decline in intellect with age; previous studies were conducted on patients already in the grips of dementia.

When it comes to lifestyle choices, Friedan is in no mood to reproach. She considers "retirement communities" with avid curiosity, finding the good, yet concluding that there is often a case for letting the old stay at home.

The "fountain of age," Friedan argues, is to be found not in any given locale but in "the new simplicity of not trying to...deny one's age. It's as if only by giving up those youthful illusions and demands, fears and dreams, by being your own age...that you have the strength to move on to that new place."

Friedan herself is in an enviable place, deeply connected to friends and family, valued as a visiting professor (at New York University and the University of Southern California) and lecturer, and as acutely observant as when she first galvanized a nation in the early '60s. The reader has no reason to doubt this vibrant modern woman—who once confessed that she "could not face being 60"—when she now testifies, "I have never felt so free." (Simon & Schuster, $25)

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