Second Wind

Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life


About The Book

In this groundbreaking book, one of the most innovative thinkers in medicine explains how to recognize and navigate the most challenging and fulfilling developmental stage of life.

How do you know that you are outgrowing adulthood?

When you begin to feel that the life you have been living is out of balance; when the need to perform, to hurry, and to acquire is no longer compelling. It’s like the moment when your favorite tennis shoes start to give you blisters. The way you’ve been living your adult life doesn’t fulfill you anymore.

Dr. Bill Thomas, one of the most innovative thinkers in medicine, explains that a new life phase is beginning to emerge within our society. When the Baby Boom generation came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, they jump-started a cultural revolution that shaped today’s society. Now, many feel they are living a life of frenzied disharmony. This out-of-balance feeling is a signal that you are ready for your second coming of age, your life beyond adult­hood. Second Wind illuminates how to recognize and navigate the most challenging and fulfilling developmental stage of life.

Life can and should be reimagined. New ways of living and working are waiting to be discovered on the far side of adulthood. Dr. Thomas treats the Baby Boom generation as he would one of his patients, sympathetically exploring its history before recommending a path toward a life rich with developmental opportunities. Predicting that Boomers will choose the path of the Denialist, the Realist, or the Enthusiast, he discusses the behav­iors and attitudes that will provide new and more nourishing fuel for the rest of life’s journey: hope and a renewed sense of all that is possible.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Second Wind includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In today's society, childhood and adulthood are clearly defined stages in an individual's life and development. But what about after? The postwar generation is currently facing a crossroads between embracing what comes after middle age, fighting to delay the inevitable, and denying its imminence altogether. In Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life, Dr. Bill Thomas expertly analyzes the origins of koyaanisqatsi, or a way of living that calls for another way of living. Dating back to the birth of postwar subcultures and through the rise and impending triumph of Denialists, Second Wind is a revealing examination of a society fervently worshiping the cult of adulthood. Dr. Thomas argues that there is, indeed, a third stage to life—one that is just as fulfilling if not more fulfilling than adulthood—and it’s not too late for the postwar generation to embrace it.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. In Second Wind, Dr. Bill Thomas discusses how parenting instruction influenced the postwar generation, both as children and as parents. Why is childrearing so significant as a theme in the book? How does it help form the crux of Dr. Thomas’s argument?
2. Describe the counter-countercultural movement. How is this an important narrative throughout Second Wind? What other themes or motifs can you identify?
3. Why was the “reinterpretation of the human life cycle” so threatening to Squares? How might Hippies’ efforts be perceived today?
4. What is ageism? How does the author differentiate it from sexism or racism? In what ways and through what media have you experienced ageism in your own life?
5. Dr. Thomas describes how personality cults differ from society-wide cults. How does his interpretation of a cult differ from common usage today? What examples does he give?
6. According to Dr. Thomas, Americans perceive the passage of time differently than they did generations ago, even though workweeks remain the same length in time. What has shaped and influenced this perception, according to the author? What do you think has changed?
7. What is prosperity gospel, according to the author? Analyze the connection between prosperity gospel and the cult of adulthood.
8. What is scrolling? Why is it so damaging? Have you been forced to confront forms of scrolling in your own life?
9. Describe Denialists, Realists, and Enthusiasts. Why do you think the author believes the smallest portion of the population is made up of Enthusiasts? What is Dr. Thomas’s position on each of these subcultures?
10. Dr. Thomas argues that children and elders can have a profound effect on each other. Have you witnessed this in your own life? Would you have raised your own children with their grandparents if you had had the option?
11. Americans gradually began to perceive efficiency as a moral virtue as the cult of adulthood took its cultural foothold. What does efficiency measure in the workforce versus social groups? Why is it an unreliable measurement of worth for elders?
12. Dr. Thomas recommends that not only elders but society as a whole must embrace “slowing down” as a way of recognizing and accepting elderhood. How does he suggest doing this? In what ways would you “slow down” in your own life?
13. How do you think Dr. Thomas’s own personal beliefs influenced his findings and research? Would understanding his personal bias change the way you interpret his book?
14. Poll your reading group. Who’s a Denialist? A Realist? An Enthusiast? Who’s too young to know? Discuss everyone’s reasons and how his or her views might change after reading Second Wind.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. At your next book club meeting take turns looking in a mirror and share a favorite feature that’s traditionally associated with “old age.”
2. Have a historical debate club night! Assign Square, Activist, and Hippie roles to each book club member and take turns arguing which subculture was (or would have been) the most beneficial for the postwar generation.
3. Do any of your book club members participate in Croning ceremonies? Ask a volunteer to demonstrate a Croning ceremony with your book club. See if anyone wants to induct herself!
4. Plan an elder-themed Slow Food potluck. Ask an elder close to you what his or her favorite recipe is (or if you’re an elder, pick yours!), and make it for your reading group.
5. Choose a popular or common anti-aging product and analyze it at your next book club meeting. Discuss how it might be marketed and in what ways that would shape someone’s perception of aging.

About The Author

Photograph by Jon Reis

Dr. Bill Thomas is a visionary and internationally recognized expert on aging. He is an Ashoka Fellow and winner of the Heinz Award for the Human Condition. He cocreated The Eden Alternative, an international nonprofit, and The Green House Project, both models to revolutionize nursing home care. In addition to teaching, speaking, and consulting internationally, he is currently a Senior Fellow at AARP’s Life Reimagined Institute. A graduate of the State University of New York and Harvard Medical School, he lives in Ithaca, New York with his family.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 11, 2014)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451667561

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Raves and Reviews

"A stirring and splendid book."

– The Wall Street Journal

"In Second Wind, Bill Thomas goes deep inside our culture. Like the best kind of doctor, he evaluates the toll our hurried, quantified, and driven lives have taken on us before he suggests a new way forward. He'll challenge the way you think about your future. And you'll want to make the journey with him."

– Jane Pauley, author of Your Life Calling

"Slowing down as we age, in the way that Dr. William Thomas means it, is not only a pleasure, but also a necessity. The brain research is clear: if we don't de-stress and rethink our lives in our fifties and beyond, we can not only lose our longevity but also increase our rates of depression, anxiety, and mental illness down the line. And so I will personally heed Dr. Thomas's advice in Second Wind, and I highly recommend this very practical and accessible book to everyone over fifty."

– Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Aging

Second Wind is a tour de force. A beautifully crafted narrative on the forces that have shaped the baby boom generation. And a roadmap for how this massive group can now use their accumulated wisdom and elderhood as a potent force for cultural renewal, connection, and deep healing. ”

– Christiane Northrup, M.D., OB/GYN physician and author of the New York Times bestsellers Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause

"As the great migration beyond midlife gathers momentum and scale, millions are looking for deeper meaning, more significant roles, and connections that span the generations—asking the question, “How do I live a life that still matters?." Bill Thomas has emerged as the visionary leader and preeminent storyteller of this movement to make a monument out of what once were considered the leftover years. And now, with Second Wind, he has given us an inspiring and pragmatic guide for the path to purpose in the second half of life. It is destined to become a classic.”

– Marc Freedman, Founder/CEO, and author The Big Shift

"Digging ever deeper into the etiology of what he learned treating the frailest people in nursing homes, Dr. William Thomas came to realize that the very culture in which we age needs to be healed. Second Wind is his RX for healing not just the cultural disease that exacerbates every illness that afflicts old age, but also the 'Koyaanisquati,' the life out of balance diagnosed by Hopi elders that threatens the future of humanity. As he demonstrates in Second Wind, it's all connected."

– Barry Barkan, Director, Live Oak Institute

"Sound concepts...grounded and useful."

– Publishers Weekly

“Stunning and insightful…Second Wind is not only a blueprint for individual fulfillment, it’s a generational mandate…Thomas has given us an inspiring and pragmatic guide for the path to purpose in the second half of life.”


"An intellectual feast about the possibilities of life after adulthood....thought-provoking and motivating."


"A mixture of social history, culture, philosophy, and commentary....The book expanded my understanding of my generation—why we think the way we do and why we do the things that we do...visionary."

– BiFocal

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