A fine account of a medical tour de force.

THE VACCINE

INSIDE THE RACE TO CONQUER THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

The story of the development of the first effective Covid-19 vaccine.

Readers of Gregory Zuckerman’s excellent A Shot To Save the World learned about the complex mix of unparalleled science, rampant ambition, and fierce competition that led to the creation of a viable vaccine. Miller, the Frankfurt correspondent for the Financial Times who reported on the scientific race, tells a different but equally gripping story that emphasizes aggressive German startup BioNTech, founded by the brilliant husband-and-wife team of Türeci and Şahin. Miller narrates the story, which begins in January 2020 with the workaholic Şahin noting a news story about the emergence of a “novel respiratory illness” in Wuhan, China, that was not yet concerning world epidemiologists. What disturbed him was evidence that healthy people could carry the virus and transmit it, unlike previous (and short-lived) epidemics of SARS and MERS in 2002. Using his experience and calculations, he concluded that it was likely the beginning of a global pandemic. Of course, he was correct, although the World Health Organization didn’t come around until six weeks later. Şahin predicted perhaps 3 million deaths; the number is now over 4 million. At the time, BioNTech concentrated on anti-cancer drugs and was struggling financially. Yet Türeci and Şahin convinced executives (who controlled the money) to change course and devote their entire force to making a vaccine. There follows a vivid, complex (sometimes overly so) description of the frantic 10 months that followed as the company dealt with the political, immunological, technical, statistical, and public relations problems of bringing a radical new vaccine to market in record time. Remarkably, they succeeded. In mass testing of 170 individuals who were infected with Covid-19, only 8 had received the vaccine—a success rate of 95%. Pfizer had worked with BioNTech, especially in the testing and marketing approval process, so many Americans know it as the Pfizer vaccine, but it was conceived in Germany by two Turkish-born scientists.

A fine account of a medical tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-28036-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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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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The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

F*CK IT, I'LL START TOMORROW

The chef, rapper, and TV host serves up a blustery memoir with lashings of self-help.

“I’ve always had a sick confidence,” writes Bronson, ne Ariyan Arslani. The confidence, he adds, comes from numerous sources: being a New Yorker, and more specifically a New Yorker from Queens; being “short and fucking husky” and still game for a standoff on the basketball court; having strength, stamina, and seemingly no fear. All these things serve him well in the rough-and-tumble youth he describes, all stickball and steroids. Yet another confidence-builder: In the big city, you’ve got to sink or swim. “No one is just accepted—you have to fucking show that you’re able to roll,” he writes. In a narrative steeped in language that would make Lenny Bruce blush, Bronson recounts his sentimental education, schooled by immigrant Italian and Albanian family members and the mean streets, building habits good and bad. The virtue of those habits will depend on your take on modern mores. Bronson writes, for example, of “getting my dick pierced” down in the West Village, then grabbing a pizza and smoking weed. “I always smoke weed freely, always have and always will,” he writes. “I’ll just light a blunt anywhere.” Though he’s gone through the classic experiences of the latter-day stoner, flunking out and getting arrested numerous times, Bronson is a hard charger who’s not afraid to face nearly any challenge—especially, given his physique and genes, the necessity of losing weight: “If you’re husky, you’re always dieting in your mind,” he writes. Though vulgar and boastful, Bronson serves up a model that has plenty of good points, including his growing interest in nature, creativity, and the desire to “leave a legacy for everybody.”

The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4478-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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