Triumphs of Experience
George E. Vaillant

Book cover image

Narrated By: Don Hagen

Duration: 12 hours and 38 minutes

What to expect

At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years and often become more fulfilling than before.

Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over two hundred men, starting with their undergraduate days. The now-classic Adaptation to Life reported on the men's lives up to age fifty-five and helped us understand adult maturation. Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.

Reporting on all aspects of male life—including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use—Triumphs of Experience shares a number of surprising findings. For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife and vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. Marriages bring much more contentment after age seventy, and physical aging after eighty is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age fifty. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.


Child, developmental and lifespan psychology, Psychology of ageing, Age groups: adults, Psychological methodology, History of science

Listen to a sample

“The beauty of the Grant Study is that, as Vaillant emphasizes, it has followed its subjects for nine decades. The big finding is that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The men kept changing all the way through, even in their 80s and 90s.”

New York Times

“Look beneath the sometimes overwrought psychological framework that Mr. Vaillant layers over the men’s stories and you will see an array of strategies for making permanent peace with life’s missed opportunities.”

Wall Street Journal

“Reading like a storybook, the case histories of the individuals provide fascinating insights about how the subjects tackled challenges or succumbed to setbacks. Vaillant superbly explains how these lifelong experiences sculpted these men’s final years. Readers can learn more about themselves and what they may expect from life by reading this revelatory and absorbing book.”

San Francisco Book Review

“The study offers broadly applicable evidence about how everything from early maturity to grandparents’ longevity is likely to affect flourishing throughout life. Like a good doctor, Vaillant has written a book whose conclusions generalize most clearly when they concern physical and mental health.”

New Republic

“Reads like a riveting detective tale, despite revealing the solution at the start…The study’s superficially simple message is engagingly delivered by its author…He has a thought-provoking story to tell about the lifelong significance of loving care.”

Times Higher Education

“This fascinating book of ‘numbers’ and ‘pictures’ is the final summary volume of a longitudinal psychosocial study focused on the optimum health of 268 males from Harvard College classes…This book is well worth reading for the discoveries contained in its pages; it has the potential to advance knowledge about adult development.”


“In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant elegantly and persuasively brings us an answer to the question that launched a thousand snake-oil salesmen: what makes for a successful and happy life?…[An] engaging work. There are regrettably few studies of this magnitude and even fewer accounts that so ably synthesize the broader insights with the moving parts.”


“Don Hagen delivers a resonant narration that holds attention…His appealing tone and relaxed pitch modulations give this audiobook the type of power it needs to deliver the life lessons offered by the study participants, who are now in their nineties.”


“A fascinating account…Vaillant has done a wonderful job summarizing the study, discussing its major findings, and communicating his enthusiasm for every aspect of the project…His personal approach to discovery repeatedly draws readers in...Joyful reading about a groundbreaking study and its participants.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This is, arguably, the most important study of the life course ever done. But it is, inarguably, the one most brimming with wisdom. If you are preparing for the last quarter of your life, this is a must-read.”