Community Magazine

The Book of Charlie: Book Review

By Thegenaboveme @TheGenAboveMe

The Book of Charlie: Book Review

Published 23 May 2023

While visiting my little rural library, I saw The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-Year-Old Man by David von Drehle, so I picked it up. 

von Drehle does not just chronicle the life of a centenarian; he spends about a third of his efforts contextualizing the events of Charlie White's life that spanned from 1905 to 2014.  While reading about Charlie's adventures, character, and achievements, von Drehle discusses national trends as well as those that were more regional (to the Midwest primarily) and some that were city specific (to St. Louis and Kansas City, for example). Because I lived for 8 years in Kansas and 7.5 years in SW Indiana (2 plus hours east of St. Louis), I was particularly interested in Charlie's years in those cities. 

We get to observe life on the frontier in the 1910s and 1920s, life during the Depression, war time service for WW1 and WW2, and the development of medical techniques that transformed medicine dramatically during Charlie's practice from the family doctor with the black bag making home visits with limited ability to intervene to Charlie performing state-of-the-art techniques for aesthesia. 

I liked von Drehle's technique of switching from the particular to the universal and back again.  Yes, Charlie participated in some trends and was influence by the Zeitgeist of several eras; however, he also was adventurous and innovative--having adventures (such as riding the rails and being an entrepreneur by being a doctor to an apartment building as well as plunging patients into newly purchased horse feeding troughs as a way to make open heart surgery possible).  

If you want a guided tour through 100 plus years of American history (with some overseas adventures here and there), ride along with Charlie as von Drehl narrates.


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