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Lively, illuminating popular science.

How the elements of the human body came to be.

In his debut book, writer and documentarian Levitt hits the ground running with news that a 150-pound human body contains 60 elements, including “enough carbon to make 25 pounds of charcoal, enough salt to fill a saltshaker, enough chlorine to disinfect several backyard swimming pools, and enough iron to make a three-inch nail.” On the open market, our body chemicals would bring about $2,000. To explain how they assembled into a human requires an explanation of life itself, which demands understanding the history of our planet. Many authors who write about our elemental makeup deliver this in an introductory chapter, but Levitt offers an entertaining history of the entire universe, paying most attention to humans in the introduction and final chapters. He keeps matters simple enough that science buffs will be satisfied and average readers will learn a great deal. The immense heat caused by the Big Bang permitted almost nothing to exist except the simplest elements, hydrogen and helium. After at least 100 million years of expansion and cooling, the two condensed into stars whose heat and pressure squeezed them into heavier elements—and even heavier ones when aging stars exploded. After more billions of years, galaxies and planetary systems formed, including the Earth 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists have no idea how life began, but Levitt’s page-turning account emphasizes how quickly it happened: within a few hundred million years. Life here and on other planets may be inevitable. Earthly life was bacterial for most of its existence. Plants came later, and they still rule the world, making up 80% of its biomass. Animals brought up the rear, eventually evolving into humans. The author notes that the process of completing this book “has been a continual source of wonder, stupefaction, exhilaration, and gratitude.” Readers will share those feelings.

Lively, illuminating popular science.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-325118-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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

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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