A fascinating look at cutting-edge research with profound implications.




How the brain’s microglial cells affect the body and the mind.

From 2001 to 2006, science journalist Jackson Nakazawa (Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal, 2015, etc.) was stricken, for the second time, with Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks nerves, causing paralysis. As she recovered, she experienced cognitive and psychological changes that urged her to question the connection between physical immune dysfunction and brain-related and psychiatric illness, a connection that went against the prevailing medical belief that the brain could not be affected by immune disorders. The author’s investigations led her to the work of scientists across many disciplines—neurobiology, genetics, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, and immunology—several of whom she profiles in lively detail: the caffeine-fueled Beth Stevens, for one, a MacArthur fellow who directs a laboratory, and Jonathan Kipnis, whose graduate school professors, decades ago, did not encourage his experiments in the immune system–brain connection. Translating scientific research into brisk, readable prose, Jackson Nakazawa reports on breakthrough discoveries regarding microglial cells, which function as the brain’s white blood cells, with “enormous power to protect, repair, and repopulate the brain’s billions of neurons and trillions of synapses, or to cripple and destroy them.” But besides functioning as helpful “angels,” they also can spin into overdrive in response to stressors such as infection, environmental toxins, trauma, physical or emotional abuse, and chronic mental stress. When these stressors appear to microglia as if they are biological pathogens, the resulting “frenzied” microglial activity can lead to depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, forgetfulness, lethargy, and similar symptoms. The author follows three autoimmune sufferers whose psychological symptoms were significantly improved by one of the new therapies resulting from microglial research: transcranial magnetic stimulation, neurofeedback, gamma light therapy, and fasting diets. Scientists in many fields, writes the author, are looking into a microglial connection to Alzheimer’s disease, with the hope that if the cells can be rebooted and reprogrammed, they can “help reverse the ravages” of the disease.

A fascinating look at cutting-edge research with profound implications.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-9917-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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