Bedside Book Review: The Life Project

The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives by Helen Pearson

‘The remarkable story of a unique series of studies that have touched the lives of almost everyone in Britain today;

‘On 3rd March 1946 a survey began that is, today, the longest-running study of human development in the world, growing to encompass six generations of children, 150,000 individuals and some of the best-studied people on the planet. The simple act of observing human life has changed the way we are born, schooled, parent and die, irrevocably altering our understanding of inequality and health. This is the tale of these studies; the scientists who created and sustain them, the remarkable discoveries that have come from them. The envy of scientists around the world, they are one of Britain’s best-kept secrets.’ (Google Books)

In The Life Project, Pearson describes the course of four studies that set out to chart people’s lives from the cradle to grave. She follows the development of the cohorts from the first one beginning in 1946, to the most recent in 2000.

Over the span of those 54 years, she tells the stories of the scientists and the 70,000 ordinary people who took on the monumental task of making these studies possible.

Though which she manages to emphasise the importance of these studies and how influential they became on UK life.

Pearson does a wonderful job of bringing to life a complex subject that touched the lives of so many people with an effortless style that at no point becomes convoluted or incomprehensible.

However, her gentleness of touch means she only scratches the surface of the studies, and presents a chronological descrption of the cohorts, rather than an in-depth exploration.

She does little to probe the question the cohorts set to find out: if you are born into difficult circumstances, are you destined to have a difficult life.

She simply reports the data.

A lot of the pages are filled with description rather than exploration.

Repeatedly she goes on to tell of the hardships the cohorts faced through waning funding and political support, but does little to show the disheartening, stressful affect this would have had on the people involved.

Perhaps a more personable or scientific approach may have suited the subject matter more.

Nonetheless, as a beginners look into the relatively unknown British cohorts, Pearson provides an easy insight into a mammoth study that otherwise may go unnoticed, despite touching the lives of almost everyone in Britain today.

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