An informative guide to the gut in search of its best audience.

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THE GOOD GUT

TAKING CONTROL OF YOUR WEIGHT, YOUR MOOD, AND YOUR LONG-TERM HEALTH

Stanford University scientists deliver an exhaustive, and sometimes exhausting, survey of the human microbiome.

Buzzwords like probiotic and prebiotic make health news headlines, but how many of\ us really know what those terms mean? Here to explain those concepts, and everything else related to the role of bacteria in our bodies, are two Stanford University School of Medicine scientists with indisputable credentials. Both work in Stanford’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology—Justin as a professor and Erica as a researcher—and while their expertise is impressive and their writing clear, they share so much information that readers may get bogged down in the details and lose track of how it all relates to them personally. Readers looking for the practical applications promised in the book’s subtitle, for instance, may be frustrated by a wealth of what can seem like esoteric experiments and a dearth of details on more conventional matters like precisely how to produce the fermented foods the authors recommend adding to the diet. (Recipes for microbe-friendly muesli, smoothies, scrambles, and similar foods appear only in an appendix.) Meanwhile, scientists will be fascinated by the carefully reproduced studies that highlight surprising findings—stressing a lab animal, for instance, can change its gut microbiota—yet may have misgivings about the Sonnenburgs’ untested views on things like hand-washing routines and infant feeding. Sometimes proof and opinion seem at odds, as when the authors consider the gut bacterias’ possible impact on autism spectrum disorders; though the experiments cited are inconclusive, the Sonnenburgs express unexpected optimism that a connection will one day be found. The authors’ enthusiasm for their subject is evident throughout and may be enough to maintain interest in both lay and academic readers. Andrew Weil provides the foreword.

An informative guide to the gut in search of its best audience.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59420-628-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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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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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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