Mortal coil – the chaos and confusion of life

The books just keep on coming. For a subject that many people shy away from, it attracts a lot of literary work and this new book is a worthy addition to those already on offer.

PICTURE: Book cover

With a somewhat ambitious title: This Mortal Coil: A History of Death, this book delves into the how we’ve arrived at that point in history where we live longer, but not necessarily as accepting and comfortable with death as our ancestors. Even though the dictionary notes that ‘mortal coil’ refers to the chaos and confusion of life, many would claim they’ve life sorted and thinking about – let alone planning for – death in any way shape or form is to be avoided and put off. We don’t think this is good for us nor healthy mentally, since it comes with far too many consequences of an unhelpful kind – that if faced up to them, would make life much better for us all.

Author Andrew Doig is professor of biochemistry at the University of Manchester (UK). He keeps the subject manageable by focusing on death as a scientific phenomenon, while not losing sight of what it means for us ordinary mortals and society at large.

Nothing much has changed across the centuries – how we live, to a large extent determines how we die. In the medieval world for example it was plagues, famines and wars that were the most common causes of death. Fast forward to today, it’s heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Doig notes that medical breakthroughs in understanding and treatment of disease, sanitation and nutrition have done wonders to keep the mortal body bouncing along way past those young years. It’s not uncommon for people to live into their 70s and beyond, but and it’s a big but, inequalities in living standards remain a major concern.

Even within societies that have so-called healthier citizens, supposedly due to higher standards of health care, there can be what others would call sub-standard diets that lead to painful dying experience, not only for the dying, but also for families and friends. This is a controllable aspect that many choose to ignore, placing unnecessary stresses on the health system.

How death comes to us all, at whatever time of our lives, that’s what this book deals with.

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