Utterly timely and readable, if not terribly comforting in the midst of the current pandemic.

THE RULES OF CONTAGION

WHY THINGS SPREAD—AND WHY THEY STOP

A geeky but fascinating exploration of the mathematics of things that go viral—not least of them viruses.

“If we want a better grasp of contagion, we need to account for its dynamic nature,” writes Kucharski, who does mathematical modeling of disease transmission at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He elaborates throughout: Contagion is constantly in motion as it courses through a population, finding its “susceptibles” and slowing down as the number of susceptibles declines. By the author’s capable account, the math works out pretty much the same whether applied to some negative force, such as a COVID-19 category virus or the concomitant financial crumbling that has surrounded it, or some positive force—e.g., a cultural innovation such as a pop song or dance move. Kucharski works his way through some key epidemiological ideas, including one advanced by the scientist who put it together that malaria was spread by mosquitos, earning him the Nobel Prize—although that scientist later protested that his larger achievement was formulating “general laws of epidemics.” These laws embody a mathematical formula that looks rather like an hourglass turned on its side, representing three key groups: the susceptible, the infectious, and the recovered. There are also the dead, of course, but they don’t move, as the dynamic model does. Kucharski takes his readers down provocative detours, such as the use of public-health models of disease transmission to examine how social networks figure in urban gun violence, with algorithms that take into account such things as “age gang affiliations, and prior arrests.” When things go viral, all kinds of interesting mathematical and real-world effects can happen, from stock market bubbles to horrific explosions of disease. Kucharski is there, calculator in hand, to suss it all out, and highly numerate readers will enjoy going along with the ride to guesstimate the R value of a contagion’s spread.

Utterly timely and readable, if not terribly comforting in the midst of the current pandemic.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7431-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

F*CK IT, I'LL START TOMORROW

The chef, rapper, and TV host serves up a blustery memoir with lashings of self-help.

“I’ve always had a sick confidence,” writes Bronson, ne Ariyan Arslani. The confidence, he adds, comes from numerous sources: being a New Yorker, and more specifically a New Yorker from Queens; being “short and fucking husky” and still game for a standoff on the basketball court; having strength, stamina, and seemingly no fear. All these things serve him well in the rough-and-tumble youth he describes, all stickball and steroids. Yet another confidence-builder: In the big city, you’ve got to sink or swim. “No one is just accepted—you have to fucking show that you’re able to roll,” he writes. In a narrative steeped in language that would make Lenny Bruce blush, Bronson recounts his sentimental education, schooled by immigrant Italian and Albanian family members and the mean streets, building habits good and bad. The virtue of those habits will depend on your take on modern mores. Bronson writes, for example, of “getting my dick pierced” down in the West Village, then grabbing a pizza and smoking weed. “I always smoke weed freely, always have and always will,” he writes. “I’ll just light a blunt anywhere.” Though he’s gone through the classic experiences of the latter-day stoner, flunking out and getting arrested numerous times, Bronson is a hard charger who’s not afraid to face nearly any challenge—especially, given his physique and genes, the necessity of losing weight: “If you’re husky, you’re always dieting in your mind,” he writes. Though vulgar and boastful, Bronson serves up a model that has plenty of good points, including his growing interest in nature, creativity, and the desire to “leave a legacy for everybody.”

The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4478-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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