Readers looking for help on sleep problems should consult one of the books Gregory recommends. Those who are merely curious...

NODDING OFF

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE

A British sleep expert provides an overview of what we know about sleep, which turns out to be quite a lot and also not enough.

Gregory begins by pointing out that animals deprived of sleep will die. Humans who are kept awake become sleepy, confused, and delirious. Everyone agrees that sleep is essential to life, and many explanations exist, which means that no one knows why. “Although we sleep each night,” writes the author, “defining it is tricky. What exactly is it?” The popular (i.e., unproven) belief about why sleep is necessary is that the body must rest to eliminate toxins and regenerate energy. There is better evidence that the brain itself uses sleep to solidify and consolidate the day’s input: learning and memories. Proceeding chronologically, the author describes how we sleep during the various periods of life, with special attention to what happens when things go wrong. She does not neglect neuroscience but emphasizes her specialty, focusing on psychological studies, surveys, educational research, and interviews. Gregory is a researcher, not a physician, but readers will have no doubt that her editors made it clear that the audience for a book on sleep science is minuscule compared with the apparently bottomless market for medical advice. A first-time writer, she takes the hint enthusiastically but mostly pours out generalities—e.g., “big and stressful events in our lives can trigger insomnia.” As a good scientist, she warns that individual responses vary widely, and research backing many treatments and advice is thin or absent entirely.

Readers looking for help on sleep problems should consult one of the books Gregory recommends. Those who are merely curious will learn fascinating details of what scientists know about sleep, including its familiar and bizarre disorders, and how they are learning more.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4729-4618-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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