THE HUNGRY GENE

THE SCIENCE OF FAT AND THE FUTURE OF THIN

No quick-weight-loss tips here, but a compelling depiction of the complexity and size of the plague of obesity.

A revealing look at research into the causes of obesity, the drastic measures being taken by some to combat fat, and the tactics of those who profit from it.

Science writer Shell (Journalism/Boston Univ.; A Child’s Place, 1992) opens her account with a gripping scene of a 274-pound woman undergoing gastric bypass surgery, a procedure opted for by some 40,000 Americans in the year 2000 alone. With more than 9,000,000 Americans “morbidly obese” (that is, more than 100 pounds overweight), there are strong incentives for finding the key to the fat problem. Following the search for the obesity gene, Shell vividly portrays some of the scientists involved. She shows how the drive for prestige, patents, and profit affects scientific research and reports on the disturbing connections between obesity researchers and the diet, food, and pharmaceutical industries. She then demonstrates how biology and environment interact in shaping behavior (and therefore bodies) by shifting her focus to Micronesia, where Westernization of the native island people’s diet has produced an astonishing increase in obesity rates, along with diabetes and other health problems. Noting that childhood obesity is most prevalent in countries where advertising on children’s television is least regulated, Shell argues that public policy should encourage healthful eating, and she enumerates a few courses of action to that end. Likening “Big Food” to “Big Tobacco” as a manipulator of public opinion, she faults the industry’s sponsorship of the American Dietetic Association and other influential nutrition groups. Similarly, she calls for separation of the US Department of Agriculture’s food-promotion function from its nutrition-advisory function.

No quick-weight-loss tips here, but a compelling depiction of the complexity and size of the plague of obesity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-87113-856-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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WHY WE SWIM

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

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

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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