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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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.


A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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