A worthy addition to the body of popular literature on AIDS research.

SHOTS IN THE DARK

THE WAYWARD SEARCH FOR AN AIDS VACCINE

A spirited and wide-ranging inquiry into the scientific community’s failure, after nearly 20 years, to put an end to AIDS.

Across the world, 16,000 people become infected with HIV every day; in sub-Saharan Africa alone, nearly 30 million suffer from the ravaging disease. Such numbers, Science journalist Cohen writes, are obviously horrific. Yet, he believes, most Americans have lost whatever interest they may have once had in the problem of AIDS: “With the advent of powerful cocktails of anti-HIV drugs in the late 1990s, journalists began trumpeting the idea that AIDS was history, which the American public readily accepted.” Those cocktails have led to falling death rates in populations lucky enough to have them, but the author suggests that the world at large might likely be free of AIDS had a vaccine been developed through the concerted efforts of government, industry, and academia. That vaccine hasn’t been created for many reasons, among them an appalling level of ignorance (the Reagan administration’s top health officer was apparently shocked to discover that homosexuals engage in anal intercourse), interagency rivalries, a lack of bold leadership or coordinated efforts, and the unwillingness of the pharmaceutical industry to turn its attention to a marginal profit center. By contrast, the author observes that Jonas Salk did not wait for the discovery of the ideal polio vaccine to begin treating patients, and he enjoyed the support of a vast organization (led by the March of Dimes) as well. Cohen invites us to consider what might have happened had similar research mandates and support been applied to AIDS—an unlikelihood, he admits, given the fact that the US has created “a scientific culture that looks askance at targeted research programs.”

A worthy addition to the body of popular literature on AIDS research.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-05027-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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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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