An expansive, well-tempered profile of our most metaphorical organ.

STATE OF THE HEART

EXPLORING THE HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND FUTURE OF CARDIAC DISEASE

A deep immersion in the world of cardiac disease.

“More people die of heart disease than any other disease in the world, including even cancer,” writes Warraich (Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life, 2017, etc.), a fellow in cardiology at Duke University Medical Center. Given that it is also on the rise, the time is ripe to look at “the doctors and nurses who treat it, the patients and caregivers who live with it, and the stories they hold close to their chests.” It is those stories that carry the narrative. The author begins with a history of heart disease recognition by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, through the four humors, to the religious impulse that overwhelmed the sciences during the Dark Ages, when the Arab civilization rose to the challenge of advancing scientific knowledge. Warraich does a yeoman’s job explaining the various physiological aspects of the heart and its many influences—the role of salt in blood pressure, the role of blood pressure in hypertension, the role of hypertension in heart disease, or the place of atherosclerosis as the root cause of heart attacks—but where he shines is in introducing anecdotal evidence and vivid stories to add color to the raw data. Not that the anecdotal material commands the whole stage. There is plenty of hard science to ponder, such as the shift in recognizing pain as “a natural and physiological sensation rather than a metaphysical instrument of justice and heavenly intervention” or the woeful state of research in women’s cardiac health, with abiding “hegemonic gender roles…preventing many women of caring for themselves rather than others.” Warraich occasionally brings a dark humor to the proceedings—“this infarcted tissue is no better than dead meat, and ‘dead meat don’t beat.’ ”—and only rarely, thankfully, turns overly casual: “Lydia was, of course, gonna have none of that.”

An expansive, well-tempered profile of our most metaphorical organ.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-16970-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

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...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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