Positive, sympathetic and diverse perspectives for past, present and future mothers-to-be.



An obstetrician and mother of four (all by cesarean) reveals the myriad ways women can feel empowered by pregnancy.

That Lyerly (Obstetrics and Gynecology/Univ. of North Carolina) managed to compose this astute guide amid the first year of her fourth son’s life seems an accomplishment on its own. In “giving voice to women themselves,” she demonstrates how new outlooks on the process of birthing can surface. The author directly yet compassionately addresses the issues surrounding what constitute an unconstrained “good” birth and the primary goals associated with it. Besides preserving a healthy mother and child, Lyerly petitions to broaden the good-birth concept beyond that of a positive medical outcome. She writes that although the experience gained from her medical residency and obstetrics practice have helped to enhance her perception of what the optimal delivery can be, it was the groundbreaking three-year Good Birth Project, instituted at Duke University in 2006, which solidified her research. Culling hours of interviews with 100 pregnant women, midwives and maternity-care providers, Lyerly channels the fruits of these conversations (and her own personal anecdotes) into five thematic “domains”—what she found mattered most to expectant women: agency (the capacity to act on one’s own behalf), personal security, connectedness through adult-infant bonding and beyond, respect and essential knowledge. Throughout, the author’s focus is clear, and her unobtrusive approach succeeds in showcasing women with alternative pathways to handling, accepting and loving all aspects of the pregnancy and child-birthing processes. “What is needed in birth is not always intuitive or straightforwardly derived from other of life’s lessons,” she writes. Her comforting and informational guidebook will be useful for those seeking to explore the less-obvious components of parturition.

Positive, sympathetic and diverse perspectives for past, present and future mothers-to-be.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-583-33498-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Avery

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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


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.


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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