While revealing a disconcerting dearth of scientific knowledge about its causes, Cohen’s work on miscarriage is a worthwhile...

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COMING TO TERM

MYSTERIES, MYTHS, AND THE LATEST SCIENCE OF MISCARRIAGE

A deft melding of what researchers are learning about miscarriage, persistent misconceptions about it, and deeply personal stories of women who have repeatedly miscarried.

Science writer Cohen (Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine, 2001) began delving into the subject of miscarriages after his wife had four in a row. Besides exploring the scientific literature, he interviewed and observed doctors working with their patients at clinics (in Boston, Vancouver, and London) that specialize in recurrent miscarriage; he also interviewed nearly one hundred women and their partners about the experience of miscarrying. In “Mother Nature,” Cohen looks at the biology of the female reproductive system, focusing on the mechanisms of miscarriage. Abnormal chromosomes, he reports, are the cause half the time or more, and, as women age, the frequency of abnormalities in their eggs increases. As for other causes, science has few clear-cut answers. In “Mysteries,” Cohen examines and rejects various ideas about causes, including a woman’s faulty immune system and contaminants in the environment. Fetuses, he says, are more rugged than we think, and the environment provided by the female body is remarkably protective. He also offers a warning tale about abortion interventions: the drug diethylstilbestrol, known as DES, once given to women to prevent miscarriage, turned out to cause grievous harm to pregnant women and their daughters. In “Hope,” Cohen tells the stories of couples seeking help in carrying babies to term and provides a close-up look at clinicians who are trying to help them. The success stories of women who carried to term after repeated failures puts a human face on a statistic Cohen uncovered early in his research: those who have had three or more consecutive miscarriages and become pregnant again will, with no treatment, carry to term 70 percent of the time.

While revealing a disconcerting dearth of scientific knowledge about its causes, Cohen’s work on miscarriage is a worthwhile addition to the literature and his reassuring message welcome.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-27724-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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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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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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