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An intensely researched, rewarding account of an impressive medical triumph.

Not the first but a thorough, journalistic history of viral vaccines culminating with Covid-19: a spectacular achievement in which entrepreneurs played as great a role as scientists.

Zuckerman, Special Writer at the Wall Street Journal, recounts the lives of brilliant researchers, but he gives equal space to drug companies, both established (Merck, Pfizer) and fairly new (Moderna, Novavax). Not charitable institutions, they give vaccines a low priority because there is little profit in them. It’s more lucrative to sell medicine taken daily for life. Drug companies perk up when governments spend money, so their responses to AIDS, MERS, SARS, and Ebola—all viral epidemics—were swift and large in scale. But nothing matched the response to the devastating Covid-19 pandemic. Zuckerman describes the massive investment, research, and testing that produced effective vaccines that have so far saved hundreds of thousands of lives and prevented at least 1.25 million additional hospitalizations. The author emphasizes that this was a dazzling advance because the average vaccine took 10 years to produce. The fastest was mumps, which took four; developing Covid vaccines took one. Rewinding the clock to 1979, Zuckerman describes the onset of the AIDS epidemic and the ongoing, still unsuccessful efforts to produce a vaccine for HIV. Moving steadily toward the present, the author delivers interesting capsule biographies of fiercely workaholic scientists and tireless promoters seeking to commercialize their ideas in the battle against subsequent epidemics. Readers will learn a great deal, perhaps more than they want to know, about vaccine science even before Covid makes its appearance more than halfway through the narrative. Thereafter, Zuckerman offers a blow-by-blow account of the cutting-edge technology and maddening politics that led to effective vaccines in record time. He carries his story to summer 2021, when the virus staged a vicious comeback and researchers scrambled for solutions. While not certain, it’s possible that Covid will not be eliminated like smallpox but remain as a seasonal disease like influenza.

An intensely researched, rewarding account of an impressive medical triumph.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-42039-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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

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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