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Writer Susan Cheever observes, "Old age is a brand new thing - and it's a luxury we're all lucky to have."

Cheever is a bestselling author who spent five years researching her latest book, American Bloomsbury.  In writing about the lives of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and others, she realized that way back when, there was no such thing as old age.   

In the mid-19th century, the average lifespan was about 45 years. Old age wasn't really an issue because so few people achieved it. Even some books written in the 1800s refer to forty-something males as "dear old men."

Fast-forward to the year 2000, and the average lifespan in developed nations is mid-70s or more.  It's much the result of advances in medicine, technology and science - and "the religion of personal safety," as Cheever calls it.

In addition to American Bloomsbury, Cheever's books include My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson--His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous and Home Before Dark: A Biographical Memoir of John Cheever by His Daughter. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and teacher at Bennington College, and is a regular contributor to Newsday.

Cheever says one can either complain or rejoice about getting old.  "I'm old enough to know what to choose," Cheever says wryly.