A friendly primer for would-be oneirologists.

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WHY WE DREAM

THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF OUR NIGHTLY JOURNEY

What happens inside one’s brain during sleep? Answering that question, as journalist Robb’s inviting exploration makes clear, takes some work, but it yields some fascinating answers.

Telling someone that he or she was in your dream last night is a timeworn, even cheesy pickup line. Why do we dream? Ask a neurophysiologist, and you may get a suitably mechanistic answer: Dreaming is a way for the brain to do a reboot and flush its cache. Robb, a columnist for New York magazine, is more given to metaphor and lyric in looking at the ways dreams tell us what we’re really thinking about—for, by another theory, dreams are ways the brain processes bits of information gleaned in waking life and uses "them to make guesses about the future.” Granted, she writes, that in-my-dream line is “still basically an innuendo,” especially if the dream-inhabiting person in question was climbing a ladder, a pure Freudian trope for intercourse. That person may figure in an innocent dream that still has meaning, just as the content of dreams of patients about to undergo surgery speaks to “anxieties and fears, in symbols and metaphors if not literally.” (Robb adds that if you’re dreaming about “broken knives and blocked-up sewers” before undergoing the procedures, you’re anxious for sure.) The author tends toward the softer side of the neuropsychological spectrum; there’s been much hard neuroscience work on the sleeping and dreaming brain, for instance, that doesn’t figure here. She writes at some length of “lucid dreaming” and ways to cultivate a better understanding of what’s happening inside our minds when the lights are out. Even if we don’t quite know why certain ingredients may be in a dream or “why our brains choose a particular night to play a particular scene,” the content can be made more meaningful—and thus more useful to the dreamer who’s paying attention, making dreamtime a time “imbued with a sense of opportunity instead of anxiety.”

A friendly primer for would-be oneirologists.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-93121-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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