An insightful text celebrating just how clever is the machine we call the human body.



Science writer Ackerman (Chance in the House of Fate: A Natural History of Heredity, 2001, etc.) tracks the daily grind from first awakening to falling asleep: a clever way to teach human physiology.

The author begins by noting that the first hour after waking is not our best. “The brain doesn’t go from 0 to 60 in seven seconds,” declares one of the many experts quoted here. For those hard-to-wake-up folks, the author mentions a fiendish MIT invention: a fuzzy alarm clock that rolls off the bedside table and hides so that the sleeper must get up to search. Such asides enliven the text, as do such personal details as a nightmare Ackerman had and the time she and her daughter encountered an escaped bull. Her narrative takes your basic white-collar worker to the office, sees him/her making a stressful report, then going to lunch, experiencing the afternoon trough (when we all would do well to take a nap) and on to evening. We learn that the cocktail hour is our peak time for alcohol tolerance; we metabolize it better then. Then comes dinner and on to bed for sex, sleep and dreams. In each of these episodes, Ackerman explains what we know and don’t know. Nobody understands fatigue, for example. On the other hand, a lot seems to have been learned about falling madly in love vs. experiencing a long-term loving relationship. Much is also known about the multiple clocks in our cells and the master clock in the brain that determines the circadian ebb and flow of hormones and chemicals that control temperature, heart rate, etc. We ignore these rhythms at our peril, Ackerman notes, decrying the havoc wrought by shift work, medical residents’ schedules, jet lag and other sleep disruptions. Most of us need seven to eight hours of sleep, she warns, rather than the typical six or seven.

An insightful text celebrating just how clever is the machine we call the human body.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-618-18758-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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 Johnstown Flood was one of the greatest natural disasters of all time (actually manmade, since it was precipitated by a wealthy country club dam which had long been the source of justified misgivings). This then is a routine rundown of the catastrophe of May 31st, 1889, the biggest news story since Lincoln's murder in which thousands died. The most interesting incidental: a baby floated unharmed in its cradle for eighty miles.... Perhaps of local interest-but it lacks the Lord-ly touch.

Pub Date: March 18, 1968

ISBN: 0671207148

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1968

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