A fine overview of an essential organ.

PUMP

A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE HEART

A professor of biology writes “a story about hearts and the circulatory systems associated with them."

By definition, the heart is an organ that receives fluid containing oxygen and nutrients from the body and then pumps it back out. Tiny, one-celled organisms—and some not so tiny (flatworms, corals, jellyfish)—don’t need one; they acquire these necessities by simple diffusion from the outside. More than 500 million years ago, writes Schutt, who is also a research associate in residence at the American Museum of Natural History, muscles evolved, forming the earliest circulatory system that moved fluids around. Hearts evolved later. The heart allows animals to grow large and move fast, but it isn’t essential. Insects don’t have one, but they don’t grow large. Although most readers give priority to their own heart, the author waits until the book’s halfway point to take it up. Nonetheless, few will object to his detours, including the especially enjoyable sections on the horseshoe crab and the blue whale. Ten chapters on the human heart deliver a scattershot but satisfying mixture of history, biology, and high-tech medicine. We are aware of our heart, perhaps more than other organs, so common sense convinced people throughout history that it was the seat of consciousness and personality. The rise of scientific research led to more accurate information, but it was a bumpy process, as revealed by Schutt’s informative and gruesome history of transfusions and transplantation. This is not a self-help book, but readers will learn details of common heart diseases and their treatments. Schutt peppers his text with jokes, asides, and cute footnotes, but tolerant readers will learn a great deal. Wynne’s clean, black-and-white line drawings, especially the diagrams of complex biological systems, provide a helpful visual accompaniment to the text.

A fine overview of an essential organ.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-61620-893-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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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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The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

F*CK IT, I'LL START TOMORROW

The chef, rapper, and TV host serves up a blustery memoir with lashings of self-help.

“I’ve always had a sick confidence,” writes Bronson, ne Ariyan Arslani. The confidence, he adds, comes from numerous sources: being a New Yorker, and more specifically a New Yorker from Queens; being “short and fucking husky” and still game for a standoff on the basketball court; having strength, stamina, and seemingly no fear. All these things serve him well in the rough-and-tumble youth he describes, all stickball and steroids. Yet another confidence-builder: In the big city, you’ve got to sink or swim. “No one is just accepted—you have to fucking show that you’re able to roll,” he writes. In a narrative steeped in language that would make Lenny Bruce blush, Bronson recounts his sentimental education, schooled by immigrant Italian and Albanian family members and the mean streets, building habits good and bad. The virtue of those habits will depend on your take on modern mores. Bronson writes, for example, of “getting my dick pierced” down in the West Village, then grabbing a pizza and smoking weed. “I always smoke weed freely, always have and always will,” he writes. “I’ll just light a blunt anywhere.” Though he’s gone through the classic experiences of the latter-day stoner, flunking out and getting arrested numerous times, Bronson is a hard charger who’s not afraid to face nearly any challenge—especially, given his physique and genes, the necessity of losing weight: “If you’re husky, you’re always dieting in your mind,” he writes. Though vulgar and boastful, Bronson serves up a model that has plenty of good points, including his growing interest in nature, creativity, and the desire to “leave a legacy for everybody.”

The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4478-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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