(K. Brent Tomer),
The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives. By Helen Pearson. Allen Lane; 399 pages; £20. To be published in America by Soft Skull Press in May; $17.95.
UNKNOWN to the vast majority of the population, a small group of British 70-year-olds has shaped the health and well-being of everyone in Britain for their whole lives. They are not policymakers or professors, but a random nationwide sample linked only by the week of their birth in 1946. Recruited barely out of the womb, they have been followed by researchers and an army of data-gatherers asking about their lives and behaviours. These have yielded profound insights into the causes of health and illness in Britain from the cradle to the grave.
Helen Pearson, a geneticist and journalist, has written “The Life Project”, a fascinating book charting the 1946 cohort and four that followed. They are a peculiarly British undertaking, and despite perhaps not being championed enough in the country—their funding has frequently been in peril—within epidemiological fields they are looked on with envy and admiration by the rest of the world.
The five cohorts, begun in 1946, 1958, 1970, 1991 and 2000, total about 70,000 Britons, providing data ranging from punch-cards in the earliest cases to fully sequenced genomes today. The 1946 cohort revealed…Continue reading