NO MOUNTAIN TOO HIGH

THE STORY OF THE WOMEN OF EXPEDITION INSPIRATION

Reflective, encouraging stories of 17 women who had breast cancer and the challenges they set themselves—including the scaling of Mount Aconcagua—from Gabbard (coauthor of Lou Whittaker: Memoirs of a Mountain Guide, not reviewed). The target of Expedition Inspiration was to get a team of breast cancer survivors atop the Western Hemisphere’s highest mountain, Argentina’s Aconcagua and, in so doing, to raise money for breast cancer research. These were ordinary women, from all walks of life, from 18 to 60 years old, and from all corners of the country, held together by the bond of breast cancer. With the expedition as a backdrop, Gabbard, who was invited along to chronicle the training and climb, tells the breast cancer histories of the women: the unimaginable first days after the discovery of the cancer; how they came to their decisions to have lumpectomies or mastectomies and if they chose to have reconstructive surgery; the hellacious tours of chemotherapy and radiation. The women also recount the emotional side of the ordeal, from doctors who were cold and superior and often clueless, to surgeons who might well wear haloes; careers that were shattered or put on hold; husbands and lovers who faded and disappeared; children who didn’t. The text is chiefly long quotes cobbled together in an emotional mosaic, which gives the book a certain raw immediacy—brashness and vulnerability duking it out—but it’s also artless, fragmenting the narrative into competing segments. Yet those who can navigate the bumpy flow of the account will be rewarded with disarming portraits of survival, including moments of humor, of laughing in the face of death (one woman went into surgery with a happy face painted on her breast). Despite the book’s ungraceful format, readers will likely be awed by the passion, brio, and honorability of these women. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-58005-008-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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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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