A must-read for avid gardeners, those interested in bolstering our precarious food supply, or anyone remotely concerned...

THE HIDDEN HALF OF NATURE

THE MICROBIAL ROOTS OF LIFE AND HEALTH

A geologist and a biologist and environmental planner chronicle the transformation of their desolate Seattle backyard into a fertile garden and how they learned about the importance of beneficial microbes in their newly revived soil.

With lively and accessible prose, Montgomery (The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, 2013, etc.) and Biklé lay the foundation for their narrative with a discussion about microbes: what they are as well as their remarkable adaptability and diversity and the role they play in the natural environment—e.g., making half the world’s oxygen. The authors lead readers through an eye-opening history of well-known individuals involved with the fascinating work of ferreting out the mysterious lives of these little critters, such as Louis Pasteur, and many others less well known to the nonscientific community. The authors’ blending of science and history, combined with personal insights, keeps the balanced narrative moving at a rapid pace. Montgomery and Biklé also deftly integrate the dark story of American agriculture’s co-option by the chemical industry. Attempting to solve the biological problem of low soil fertility with herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, corporations created a cycle of demand requiring farmers use more chemicals. The result has been depleted soil with fewer microbes and an unsustainable food production system. The authors explore the overuse of antibiotics and their effect on the human biome, livestock, and infectious diseases. Biklé describes her bout with cancer and the resulting changes she made to her garden and dietary habits. The authors ably help lay readers knit together the multiple threads of this complex and intriguing story, and a glossary provides a solid a foundation when grappling with unfamiliar terms such as “commensal” or dysbiosis.”

A must-read for avid gardeners, those interested in bolstering our precarious food supply, or anyone remotely concerned about their health and the soil under their feet.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-24440-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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