Lastingness: The Art of Old Age

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About the Book

America grows older yet stays focused on its young. Whatever hill we try to climb, we’re “over” it by fifty and should that hill involve entertainment or athletics we’re finished long before. But if younger is better, it doesn’t appear that youngest is best: we want our teachers, doctors, generals, and presidents to have reached a certain age. In context after context and contest after contest, we’re more than a little conflicted about elders of the tribe; when is it right to honor them, and when to say “step aside”?

In LASTINGNESS, Nicholas Delbanco, one of America’s most celebrated men of letters, profiles great geniuses in the fields of visual art, literature, and music-Monet, Verdi, O’Keeffe, Yeats, among others – searching for the answers to why some artists’ work diminishes with age, while others’ reaches its peak. Both an intellectual inquiry into the essence of aging and creativity and a personal journey of discovery, this is a brilliant exploration of what determines what one needs to do to keep the habits of creation and achievement alive.


“Lucid, perceptive, and broad-ranging,  LASTINGNESS speaks to the greatest anxiety of the creative with wisdom-infused passion. This is a work to take gratefully to heart.”
—Gish Jen, author of World and Town

“From where else but the panoramic cultural erudition of Nicholas Delbanco could such a tour-de-force of artistic sensitivity have come? This book is an engaging course in 20th century Western humanities, a tribute to the talents of aging men and women of creative genius and a literary gift to its readers. “
—Sherwin Nuland, author of How We Die

“Nicholas Delbanco’s LASTINGNESS provides a guided tour par excellence  through some of the most interesting creative lives of two centuries.  His respectful, insightful, occasionally humorous portraits of artists from various and overlapping fields will remind readers of what we can learn not only from their work but from lives lived, and especially from choices brought on by age.  This book is a joy.”
—Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Swan Thieves

“One of Nicholas Delbanco’s finest novels is titled What Remains, and this book, too, is about what endures in art and in life as the artist grows older. Frequently surprising and always enlightening, LASTINGNESS has a style that mixes the eloquent and the rueful in about equal measure, and in all its paragraphs the book is both learned and wise.”
—Charles Baxter, author of The Soul Thief

“And this is the reward accorded those who spend their life in art: For a brief period, and possibly far longer, they are not the fools of time.”

Such grace attends these meditations on what and how some well made things outlive their makers.  Delbanco brings both scholarship and artistry to bear on Life & Time — lives and times he’s known and studied, his own and his family’s and wide circle of mentors, heroes, friends.  Intimate, intuitive, profoundly instructive, here is a catalogue of composers and musicians, painters and sculptors, poets and writers, assayed for their permanent worth: the gold they all eventually turned into—a sort of artistic post-mortem, deftly performed, by which we might discern the Cause of Life.  Better than eulogy or obituary, LASTINGNESS is a users manual for mere and aging mortals who traffic in creation.
—Thomas Lynch, author of Apparitions and Late Fictions

“Clearly, getting old and remaining supple-minded and even imaginative is a synaptical crapshoot: the body may be willing, but the mind lives its own devious life.  On this compelling subject Delbanco is highly readable, compassionate, learned and smart, and immensely informative.”
—Richard Ford

“Nicholas Delbanco’s brief lives of the long-lived are surprising in their substance, acute in their perceptions, and beautifully written.  His further ruminations on the entire subject of what great artists have accomplished late in life are all those things – and, conveniently, useful (and encouraging) for all of us standing near the precipice of old age.”
—Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call