A prosaic but occasionally intriguing outline of a vastly underdocumented disease.

BREATHING POISON

SMOKING, POLLUTION AND THE HAZE

An investigation into the state of lung health in Asia.

Rebuck’s debut delineates the effects of dirty air on human lungs, starting with the pathologies of simple coughs and common asthma. He then connects the rising rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in Asia to three primary culprits: smoking, pollution and toxic haze from fires. Of these, he focuses primarily on the well-documented habit of smoking, from which it’s easiest to draw correlations. The book presents facts that may surprise those who live in relatively smoke-free environments; for example, an estimated two-thirds of men in China smoke, and in Indonesia, rates are similar. The Asia-Pacific region’s smoking statistics correlate with high rates of COPD, which Rebuck says are underestimated in official literature as affecting around 56.6 million people. Worldwide, about 6 in every 100 people develops COPD, so Rebuck posits that the rate in India and China alone should be closer to 120 million sufferers. Better numbers, he argues, might help governments and doctors better cope with the scope of the disease. He then compares different medical interventions and their consequences, ending with a chapter that draw parallels between the epidemiology of lung disease and Type 2 diabetes—both progressive diseases with middle-age onset exacerbated by environment and lifestyle. Although this book is dense with medical terminology, certain chapters provide inventive analogies, comparing the expansion of alveoli in human lungs to the stretch of a Slinky, for example, rather than that of a balloon. It also offers black-and-white photographs of medical equipment, graphs of disease rates and measurement techniques for lung health, which give glimpses into the process of documenting and managing lung disease. However, despite Rebuck’s clear definitions of medical terms, his detailed explanations require readers to retain extensive terminology, which may confuse those outside the medical profession. A glossary or footnotes might have been helpful.

A prosaic but occasionally intriguing outline of a vastly underdocumented disease.

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1482898088

Page Count: 168

Publisher: PartridgeSingapore

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2014

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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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