Not groundbreaking but a useful entry in sleep-disorder literature.



A fine popular-science account of sleep, mostly about when it goes wrong.

“We think of sleep as a tranquil act, when our minds are stilled and our brains are quiet,” writes Leschziner, a consulting neurologist and sleep physician at Guy’s Hospital in London. He continues, “the only awareness we might have of something happening in the night are the fragments of a dream.” Of course, like the author, most readers know that this is not the case. The author follows a straightforward format. Each chapter features a patient who describes their miseries, usually accompanied by frustrating visits to a clueless family doctor. The author investigates, makes the correct diagnosis, and describes the sometimes-happy outcome, all accompanied by asides to the reader explaining the science. Many sleep disorders are forms of brain disease. Narcolepsy, which causes intense daytime sleepiness, may be caused by the lack of a chemical that regulates wakefulness. Some problems occur when systems are out of sync. Dreaming occurs during a sleep stage when the body is paralyzed—which is why it’s difficult to cry out or move during a nightmare. Without paralysis, dreamers get up and do bizarre things. When paralysis occurs during waking, victims fall down; it’s called cataplexy. Even in a healthy brain, sleep and wakefulness are not clearly separate states, so almost everyone experiences lucid dreaming, odd sensory experiences that verge on hallucinations. Problems arise when parts of the brain controlling movement and emotion wake while regions influencing rational thinking remain asleep. Sleepwalking is the best known phenomenon, but there are others, including sleep talking, sleep eating, and night terrors. Cures do occur, and many disorders respond to lifestyle changes, but others require the permanent use of drugs and/or devices. Most American writers would deal with the cost of treatment, but Leschziner works under the British National Health Service, so readers must be satisfied with entertaining stories and a painless education on the nature of sleep and its malfunctions.

Not groundbreaking but a useful entry in sleep-disorder literature.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20270-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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