A fine introduction to sleeping: when it works and when it doesn’t.




A broad investigation of sleep that should prove useful “for everyone who wants to improve their sleep.”

For years, British science writer Nicholls (The Galápagos: A Natural History, 2014, etc.) suffered miserable daytime drowsiness before doctors made the correct diagnosis: narcolepsy. This revelation gave him a personal interest in the science of sleep, which he puts to good use in this lively, accessible overview. The author recounts the history of sleep, describes the latest research, and chronicles his “hundreds of interviews that I have conducted over the last five years with scientists, doctors and others like me who suffer from some kind of dysfunctional sleep,” but he devotes most of the text to sleep pathology. Nicholls begins with case histories of bad sleepers, including himself, and what scientists know. All higher animals sleep; it’s essential for life. There are many explanations as to why, so no one knows the correct one. Sleepers pass through distinct stages including dreaming, a subject that fascinates scientists no less than laymen. All mammals dream, human for about two hours every night. Like sleep, dreaming may be essential. All cultures believe dreams have deep significance, but researchers are skeptical. Nicholls writes fluidly about disorders of sleep, including insomnia, nightmares, and sleepwalking, as well as conditions with wildly bizarre features, from hallucinations to terrors to murderous behavior to paralysis. He shows particular interest in his own problem, narcolepsy (“a wildly variable spectrum disorder”), an approach that is particularly illuminating. Besides intense sleepiness, it includes oddball features such as cataplexy (sudden collapse without losing consciousness), sleep paralysis (inability to move when awakening), and vivid hallucinations when falling asleep. Science writing has a modest audience, medical advice a huge one, and Nicholls offers a pleasing combination; readers looking for self-help should consult his excellent bibliography.

A fine introduction to sleeping: when it works and when it doesn’t.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7257-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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