An important book that merits—and will likely receive—broad circulation and discussion.



The award-winning journalist once again takes up the cudgel in defense of health.

In his latest book, Taubes (Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, 2010, etc.) makes the provocative contention that sugar, rather than fat, is the primary cause of obesity and a major culprit in a spectrum of chronic diseases. While it is now recognized that a drastic increase in the consumption of sugar and refined starches correlates to a dramatic rise of obesity in populations that adopt a Western diet, the author argues that nutritionists have yet to pinpoint its significance. He points out that obesity is a marker for the overconsumption of carbohydrates responsible for the onset of Type 2 diabetes. The problem, he writes, is not the number but the kind of calories consumed—nor is it necessarily a diet high in saturated fats. Taubes compares sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup to “toxins…that do their damage over years and decades, and perhaps even from generation to generation.” Furthermore, diabetics and obese people are “more likely to have fatty liver disease” as well as other degenerative diseases due to elevated carbohydrate intake. For this reason, Taubes is dismissive of advice (from Michael Pollan, among others) that urges an across-the-board reduction in the total amount of calories we consume. The author buttresses his provocative contention with population studies showing the increase of chronic disease in populations that subsist on a Western diet. An example is the increase since 1960 of chronic disease among the indigenous population of a New Zealand protectorate that substituted a carbohydrate-rich diet for the saturated fats they formerly consumed. Taubes makes a convincing, well-documented case against the modern carbohydrate-rich diet. Limiting their intake is an important factor in longevity, not merely as a matter of weight control.

An important book that merits—and will likely receive—broad circulation and discussion.

Pub Date: Dec. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-307-70164-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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