Sachs discusses a variety of proposed solutions for infection as well as allergy, but basically the message is, “Get over...




Chapter and verse on the bugs that outnumber, outwit and no doubt will outlast us.

The good news is that for the most part these bugs, aka bacteria, help or at least do no harm. With us since birth, the resident flora help digest and extract nourishment from what we eat, asking little but leftovers in return. Comfortably lodged in our various niches, they also impede hostile takeovers by the not-so-nice species, which is one reason we suffer diarrhea or other complaints. Sachs (Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001) deals with the well-known problems of human antibiotic abuse that leads to scary headlines about hospital superbugs or extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, but she also covers the overuse of antibiotics for livestock, which ensures that at least some highly drug-resistant bugs make it to the supermarket. She explains the many ways bacteria acquire resistance: via mutations, but also through the exchange of genes within a strain (bacterial sex) and across species; genes are also ferried into bacteria by invading viruses. Sachs points out that most antibiotics are derived from bacteria species that have a supply of resistance genes sequestered in their main chromosome ready to be turned on to prevent bacterial suicide. Humans’ built-in defenses are largely the components of the immune system, the antibody-producing and killer cells, as well as the ones that trigger allergic sneezes. The latter branch of the system may be in overdrive, she suggests, as we excessively spritz the latest bactericidal sprays and cleaners. This “hygiene hypothesis” posits that the reason for increases in asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases in the developed world is that the immune system, for want of normal disease-fighting activity, overreacts to any stray molecule it senses, triggering an inflammatory response.

Sachs discusses a variety of proposed solutions for infection as well as allergy, but basically the message is, “Get over it! Learn to live and let live in a natural balance.”

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8090-5063-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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