Easy reading packed with information that, without inflicting guilt on couch potatoes, suggests that maybe they’ve been...

New York Times science reporter Kolata (Flu, 1999, etc.) takes a revealing look at the myths and misunderstandings about what exercise can do for you.

A clear-eyed skeptic who is also an unabashed exercise enthusiast, the author knows how to dig for truth behind the puffery of a press release. Researching one especially misleading handout led her to ask questions about the science behind the exercise industry’s fitness and health claims. For background, Kolata provides a brief survey of attitudes toward exercise from the ancient Greeks through the aerobics movement of the 1970s to the computer-monitored health clubs of today. She questions many generally accepted training claims—that low-intensity exercise burns the most fat, that weight training prevents osteoporosis, that stretching should precede a workout—and tries to determine how and why these and other ideas about fitness and health came to be accepted as fact. When her daughter decides to become certified by the American Council of Exercise as a personal trainer, Kolata gets an inside view of the exercise industry and concludes that for the most part certification is a business involving little training but lots of fee payments. She also scrutinizes the promotion of food and food supplements promising weight loss and muscle definition. As the author tracks down answers, she not only gives the reader a look into the worlds of exercise physiologists and trainers but also a glimpse of how an experienced journalist researches a story. Her personality shines through to brighten the reporting, as she shares the story of her own love affair with physical exercise, using adjectives like “exhilarated,” “strong,” and “focused” to describe her state of mind and body after a rigorous workout. For Kolata, it seems, the greatest benefit of exercise is not weight loss, improved health, physical fitness, or longer life, but sheer pleasure.

Easy reading packed with information that, without inflicting guilt on couch potatoes, suggests that maybe they’ve been missing out on a lot of fun.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-20477-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003



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


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

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