With knocks to bureaucrats and kudos to parents, Kirby does a good job of explaining the scientific issues in an unresolved...

A sympathetic account of parents battling the government the and pharmaceutical industry because they’re convinced a form of mercury used in vaccines is the principal cause of their children’s autism.

Kirby, a science contributor to the New York Times, acknowledges that while there is no proof that mercury in vaccines causes autism, neither is there any proof of its safety. Parents of children, mostly boys, who developed autism after being inoculated with vaccines containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal have been gathering data that they believe demonstrates a link between the increase in thimerosal-containing vaccination and the increase in U.S. rates of autism—from 1 in 5,000 in the 1980s to 1 in 166 today. One side calls this an epidemic; the other claims it’s the result of better diagnosis and reporting. Kirby creates warm portraits of parents trying desperately to find treatments for their damaged children while, at the same time, carrying on a war with both big government and big business. With a wealth of detail, he shows the activists waging battle on four fronts: in the scientific literature and at science meetings, in the courts, in Congress and with powerful government health agencies—the Centers of Disease Control and the FDA. Although he presents evidence for both sides, the parents, who willingly talked to him, appear in a more favorable light than the bureaucrats, who did not grant him interviews. Kirby points out that while the government agencies and the drug companies reject the activists’ theory that mercury causes autism, its use in pediatric vaccines, except flu shots, is rapidly being phased out in the United States. Further, he notes that an unfortunate result of this affair is the refusal of some parents to allow their children to receive any vaccinations against serious diseases.

With knocks to bureaucrats and kudos to parents, Kirby does a good job of explaining the scientific issues in an unresolved controversy.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-32644-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005



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. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020


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

Close Quickview