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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A quirky wonder of a book.



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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