A chemistry student falls for his teacher and uncovers a centuries-old quest for the Elixir of Life

Conrad Aybinder is a boy with a secret; sixteen and ready for anything. A chemistry genius, he has spent the summer on an independent-study project with his favorite teacher, Sammy Tampari. Sammy is also Conrad’s first love. But the first day of senior year, the students are informed that Mr. Tampari is dead. Rumors suggest an overdose. How can it be? Drugs are for unhappy people, Conrad is sure, not for people who have fallen in love.

Soon, though, it is clear that Sammy had a life hidden even from Conrad, evidenced by the journals he left for Conrad to discover after his death. The journals detail twenty years of research aimed at creating recipes for something called the Elixir of Life. Sammy has left Conrad a mystery and a scientific puzzle, but also, it seems, the chance to cure his father’s terminal illness. Conrad must race against time and other interested parties to uncover the missing piece of the recipe. What will he do to discover the formula?

Spanning centuries of scientific and alchemical inquiry, ranging from New York to Romania to Easter Island, featuring drug kingpins, Big Pharma flunkies, centenarians, and a group of ambitious coin collectors, Jake Wolff’s The History of Living Forever is equal parts thrilling adventure and meditation on mortality, thoughtful investigation of mental illness, and a reminder to be on the lookout for magic in science and life.

Praise from Reviewers

An Amazon Best Book of June
An Indie Next Selection
A Best Book of Summer 2019 at Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, and Buzzfeed
A Publisher’s Weekly Book of the Week
Winner of an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association
Long-listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

Short-listed for the William Saroyan International Prize

“[An] exuberant debut novel…[Jake Wolff is] an author with refreshing restlessness, one who will try anything to entertain his readers.”
―Michael LaPointe, New York Times Review of Books  

“[In The History of Living Forever,] the mystical and the romantic combine for a love story that also confronts the meaning of life.”
―Seija Rankin, Entertainment Weekly  (“Best Books of Summer”)

“Jake Wolff’s debut is ambitious and bountiful, centering on the human yearning for eternal life.”
―Arianna Rebolini, Buzzfeed  (“29 Summer Books to Get Excited About”)

“One of my favorite books of the month if not the entire summer.”
―Mehera Bonner, Cosmopolitan

“The search for an eternal life potion weaves through raw emotion, scientific curiosity, and heartbreak in [Jake] Wolff’s intoxicating debut . . . The epic sweep and sly humor in the midst of enormous anguish will remind readers of Michael Chabon’s work as they relish this heady exploration of grief, alchemy, and love.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“[Jake] Wolff riffs on immortality in a fresh, engrossing tale with a zany cast of characters . . . Wolff’s wild, hilarious, and moving adventure is rooted in reason and the tough truths of life: how easy it is to hurt the ones we love; that forgetting is easier than forgiving; and that life (with an elixir or not) is never long enough.”
―Katharine Uhrich, Booklist, starred review

“This beautifully written, carefully plotted, intelligent debut is a melancholy pleasure.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Jake Wolff’s beguiling debut novel…does what all good novels do: It makes an unfamiliar world feel familiar. It moves us with beautifully limned characters. It takes us on a wild ride of twists and turns that place us in the past, present and the future.”
―Ken Harvey, Lambda Literary 

“The History of Living Forever is a page turner in all of its mysteries, both scientific and psychological. It’s the kind of book you think of long after you finish it.”
―Em Nordling, Tor.com 

“With uncommon perceptiveness and a vivid imagination, Wolff has crafted a story that is both highly unusual and, in its way, universal. The History of Living Forever is not only another entry on the long list of stories about the quest for eternal life, but part of another grand storytelling tradition: the coming-of-age tale.”
―Hannah Calkins, Shelf Awareness

“At times, the novel reminds one of the work of Thomas Pynchon in its paranoid sense of a dark, secret world underneath what we think of as normal reality, but Wolff has his own, unique vision and a gripping poetic style. His characterizations sometimes call to mind Michael Chabon’s best work. The book is filled with surprising, apt metaphors, of memorable aphorisms. There’s a great deal of poetry in Wolff’s writing, and his style both carries the reader along and makes her stop and enjoy particularly lovely bits of verbal scenery. Reading The History of Living Forever is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.”
―John M. Clum, New York Journal of Books 

“[A] thrilling debut novel…” [4 out of 5 stars]
―Adrienne Pisch, BookBrowse 

“Wolff’s debut novel is a unique piece of storytelling that effortlessly jumps between different times and place.”
―Donald Padgett, The Advocate

“Wolff’s The History of Living Forever is a touching tale about fathers and sons and love that…breaks expectations about what literary fiction should be….”
―Adrienne Martini, Locus Magazine

The History of Living Forever is a captivating science experiment that blends history with mystery, romance with coming of age narratives, in an artfully written narrative. Featuring deeply flawed characters on a quest to find meaning, The History of Living Forever is as much a gripping mystery as it is a poignant, heart-breaking romance.” [5 out of 5 stars]
―Melissa Ratcliff, Paperback Paris

“Given the option, would you want to live forever? To what lengths would you go to keep a loved one alive? This ambitious debut novel will keep you lingering over these questions long after the final page.”
―Lisa Gresham, Cascadia Weekly 

“Considering the complexities, the degree of fluidity Wolff achieves in terms of both plot and prose is impressive. The History of Living Forever is a literary Venn diagram at whose center is a brief and torrid romance that opened wide a door forward even as it closed another behind.”
―Allen Adams, The Maine Edge

“Is it science fiction? A mystery? A coming of age novel? A love story? “The History of Living Forever” is all of these things as well as controversial, and first-time novelist Wolff pulls it off with wit, tenderness and no shortage of complex but digestible science and philosophy.”
―Rick Koster, The Day

“Jake Wolff’s profound novel, The History of Living Forever, will entertain you and simultaneously make you think.”
―Charles Larson, CounterPunch Magazine 

Praise from Booksellers

The History of Living Forever evokes elements of The Confessions of Max Tivoli as well as some echoes of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and The Shadow of the Wind. Conrad, straddling the line between childhood idealism and adult responsibility, is thrust into unraveling the life of his lover/mentor in the hope of remaining connected to him, understanding his life/death, and possibly saving a father who is only barely there to begin with. The narrative structure, built around Sammy’s journals, added a pace and underlined the urgency of unraveling the mystery left on Conrad’s back porch. A well-balanced, highly accomplished first novel that, in addition to blending and bending genres, offers fully realized characters and a real emotional heart. I flew through this book. It will find a lot of readers.”

Michael Link, Joseph-Beth Booksellers

The History of Living Forever is itself a marvelous elixir: part love story, part adventure, part scientific and philosophical quest. It’s equally tender, wistful, and thought-provoking, with just enough wry humor to leaven the proceedings, and peril to keep readers on tenterhooks.”

Rebecca Oppenheimer, Kramerbooks

“Jake Wolff has outfitted his engrossing debut with all the time-hopping and mysteries-upon-mysteries one could hope for. Beyond that, though, his literary pyrotechnics serve to answer a different set of centuries-long conundrums: How do we heal ourselves in a world where pain seems never-ending? How do we find health and happiness when the lines between love and hate, between abuse and affection, between joy and sadness are so porous? We’re fortunate to have a writer as ambitious and tender as Jake Wolff on the case, not only with this magnificent novel but––if the elixir works––for a long time to come.”

Sam Krowchenko, Literati Bookstore

“I love that the story is part mystery, part science lesson, part history. And young Sammy and young Conrad are so vulnerable and abandoned that it’s impossible not to speed through the story in hopes that somewhere there will be complete happiness. I was totally engrossed.”

Kristin Pidgeon, Silver Unicorn Bookstore

“Jake Wolff is the author America needs, and The History of Living Forever, his heartfelt, hilarious debut novel, is the proof. When distrust is becoming the national norm, Wolff brings something to the table that is unguarded, honest, and refreshing. In this novel of science, alchemy, first love, mortality, heredity, and fathers and sons, it would be easy to shade into the saccharine, but Wolff’s prose is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. His narrator is quick-witted and occasionally cutting, but never wry, and so freely giving of his feelings that it’s impossible to see him as ironic or detached. And Wolff never sacrifices humanity for hilarity, showing the reader his characters’ insecurities and hopes. There are secret journals and confessions of love, sudden and inexplicable brushes with death. There are exotic locations and mundane ones, from Easter Island to doctors’ offices and high schools and research labs. The History of Living Forever feels like a living thing, with all the attending idiosyncrasies. It feels honest, and its honesty feels brave.”

Jesse Davis, Novel Bookstore

“Is there an elixir of life to keep us alive into eternity? Or are we just seeking human love and tenderness?  In Jake Wolff’s original and beautifully written debut novel, he takes the reader on a journey of alchemy, homosexuality, and discovery while carrying us into the world of chemistry and what it can give us, spanning centuries of alchemists, all searching for the that fountain of youth. A very fine debut, Wolff will keep readers of all kinds in his pages next summer.”

Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books

“Jake Wolff takes as many risks within the narrative of The History of Living Forever as its characters do. His daring success can be measured in the feverish beat of the reader’s pulse, captivated, challenged, surprised, and moved. Well-turned phrases appear as tree branches carried on a swift current suddenly deposited in an eddy. This tale of the alchemy of immortality, of the quest for an elixir of life, is powerfully driven by a tension between an expansive desire to transmute the nature of life versus a reductive drive to prolong it. The mutability of both time and character suffuses the story, making sixteen-year-old Conrad’s coming-of-age unexpectedly multilayered and complex. If ever a book invited looking into the future it is The History of Living Forever, and I predict that it will have a long and glorious life.”

Kenny Brechner, Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers