A taut scientific thriller, well told. Suffice it to say that conditions are ripe for a replay of the disease; keep an eye...




Epidemic? What epidemic? Former Time Asia editor Greenfeld (Standard Deviations, 2002, etc.) probes the recent SARS outbreak and the Chinese government’s efforts to deny its existence.

“Yoga instructors in Santa Monica and investment bankers in New York have no idea of the role that a few scientists, doctors, and public health officials in Hong Kong play in keeping them hale and hearty,” writes Greenfeld. A horseracing track in Hong Kong marked the debut there of what became known as SARS—Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome—and its management feared that this new disease would result in the deaths of at least a thousand thoroughbreds and the loss of millions of dollars. That management, and the doctors and epidemiologists called to the case, were right to worry that the disease might jump across species (in Penfield Park, the first animals to die were geese). Indeed, elsewhere in China, people were becoming sick, soon dying in droves. The race to discover the cause of SARS, which first appeared in the fall of 2002, makes a fascinating story, and Greenfeld recounts it vividly and coherently; yet, as he points out, much of that story of scientific detection and international teamwork remains little known simply because other world events—chiefly the U.S. invasion of Iraq—kept the story off the front page. It did not help that the Chinese government refused to acknowledge the problem and that Chinese doctors discouraged Western disease specialists from offering aid; by the sixth month of the outbreak, which lasted slightly more than a year, Hong Kong was “eerily quiet,” writes Greenfeld, “and I could make the drive from my apartment to my office—usually a twenty-minute ride—in about seven minutes.” He had it easy, as he knows: Hundreds died by the time a cause and remedy were found.

A taut scientific thriller, well told. Suffice it to say that conditions are ripe for a replay of the disease; keep an eye out for a grim sequel.

Pub Date: March 14, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-058722-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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


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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