An excellent update on genomic medicine, which is finally bringing home the bacon.

THE GENOME ODYSSEY

MEDICAL MYSTERIES AND THE INCREDIBLE QUEST TO SOLVE THEM

An enthusiastic report on the state of the field of genomics.

Observers predicted miracles following the discovery of the genetic code in the 1950s, genetic engineering in the 1980s, and sequencing the human genome in 2003. Now, we are beginning to reap the rewards of that work. Cardiologist Ashley, professor of medicine and genetics at Stanford, makes a convincing case that the floodgates are opening. From several billion dollars in 2003, the cost of sequencing an individual genome has dropped to under $1,000. “Today, a physician can order a genome almost as easily as ordering a cholesterol test,” writes the author. “Health insurance companies increasingly list it as a covered benefit, acknowledging that transformative insights can emerge.” Although essential, knowing the makeup of every gene is only a first step. After explaining how that was achieved, Ashley describes how he and fellow researchers are learning what each gene accomplishes (a process well along), what happens when they malfunction (some progress), and how to fix them, which is more difficult and frustrating. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as the author offers numerous intriguing descriptions of brilliant scientists in this field and their work on individual genomes. One major advance was the 2008 establishment of the NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program, which devotes government money to the research of previously unknown genetic abnormalities. Ashley goes on to describe several bizarre cases, which, after a great deal of investigation, turned out to be the result of a defective gene. These make fascinating reading, but readers may suspect that this is another expert account of a spectacular technological development that raises the possibility of curing disease…but not quite yet. The final chapters are particularly interesting, as the author describes efforts to repair defective genes that have, in the past few years, permanently improved the lives of victims of a few rare diseases, even common ones such as hemophilia.

An excellent update on genomic medicine, which is finally bringing home the bacon.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-23499-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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More thought-provoking work from an important creator.

THE SECRET TO SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH

The acclaimed graphic memoirist returns to themes of self-discovery, this time through the lens of her love of fitness and exercise.

Some readers may expect Bechdel to be satisfied with her career. She was the 2014 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and her bestselling memoirs, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? both earned universally rave reviews, with the former inspiring a Broadway musical that won five Tony awards. But there she was, in her mid-50s, suffering from “a distinct sense of dread” and asking herself, “where had my creative joy gone?” Ultimately, she found what she was seeking, or at least expanded her search. In what she calls “the fitness book,” the author recounts, from her birth to the present, the exercise fads that have swept the nation for decades, from the guru-worship of Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne through running, biking, hiking, “feminist martial arts,” yoga, and mountain climbing. “I have hared off after almost every new fitness fad to come down the pike for the last six decades,” she writes. Yet this book is about more than just exercise. Bechdel’s work always encompasses multiple interlocking themes, and here she delves into body image; her emerging gay consciousness; the connection between nature and inner meaning; how the transcendentalists were a version of the hippies a century earlier; and how her own pilgrimage is reminiscent of both Margaret Fuller and Jack Kerouac, whose stories become inextricably entwined in these pages with Bechdel’s. The author’s probing intelligence and self-deprecating humor continue to shimmer through her emotionally expressive drawings, but there is so much going on (familial, professional, romantic, cultural, spiritual) that it is easy to see how she became overwhelmed—and how she had to learn to accept the looming mortality that awaits us all. In the end, she decided to “stop struggling,” a decision that will relieve readers as well.

More thought-provoking work from an important creator.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-544-38765-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

F*CK IT, I'LL START TOMORROW

The chef, rapper, and TV host serves up a blustery memoir with lashings of self-help.

“I’ve always had a sick confidence,” writes Bronson, ne Ariyan Arslani. The confidence, he adds, comes from numerous sources: being a New Yorker, and more specifically a New Yorker from Queens; being “short and fucking husky” and still game for a standoff on the basketball court; having strength, stamina, and seemingly no fear. All these things serve him well in the rough-and-tumble youth he describes, all stickball and steroids. Yet another confidence-builder: In the big city, you’ve got to sink or swim. “No one is just accepted—you have to fucking show that you’re able to roll,” he writes. In a narrative steeped in language that would make Lenny Bruce blush, Bronson recounts his sentimental education, schooled by immigrant Italian and Albanian family members and the mean streets, building habits good and bad. The virtue of those habits will depend on your take on modern mores. Bronson writes, for example, of “getting my dick pierced” down in the West Village, then grabbing a pizza and smoking weed. “I always smoke weed freely, always have and always will,” he writes. “I’ll just light a blunt anywhere.” Though he’s gone through the classic experiences of the latter-day stoner, flunking out and getting arrested numerous times, Bronson is a hard charger who’s not afraid to face nearly any challenge—especially, given his physique and genes, the necessity of losing weight: “If you’re husky, you’re always dieting in your mind,” he writes. Though vulgar and boastful, Bronson serves up a model that has plenty of good points, including his growing interest in nature, creativity, and the desire to “leave a legacy for everybody.”

The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4478-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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