Part I gets kudos for being informative and accessible, but the presumptions of Part II make for a controversial conclusion.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

HOW FOUR KEY SURVIVAL TRAITS ARE NOW KILLING US

A renowned cardiologist explores the paradox that traits essential to human survival in prehistoric times are today the cause of countless human deaths.

Goldman (Dean, Health Sciences and Medicine/Columbia Univ. Medical School), the lead editor of Goldman-Cecil Medicine, “the oldest continuously published medical textbook” in the country, cites these traits as the ability to form blood clots to prevent bleeding to death, the ability (or tendency) to gorge when food was available to prevent starvation when it was not, the craving for salt and water to prevent fatal dehydration, and the hypervigilance needed to avoid a violent death. The author points out that the world that demanded these protective attributes has changed dramatically in recent centuries, and our genetic makeup cannot change rapidly enough to get our genes into synch with our environment. He expands on this theme in Part I with historical data, statistics, medical insights, and anecdotes about individuals as disparate as Franklin Roosevelt, Gen. George Custer, and Ötzi, the mummified Ice Age man. This highly readable section is packed with information about depression, obesity, and heart disease and strokes. Part II, however, turns from this expansive and detailed view of the problems to Goldman’s own views of the solutions. He considers two options for coping: harnessing willpower to change our behaviors and our lifestyles, an approach he views with considerable skepticism; or using brain power to change our biology, which means using modern science and medicine to help our bodies adapt to the modern environment. From his perspective, the precision approach of personalized medicine offers great hope, and he sees a future in which medications and procedures compensate for the failure of our genes to adapt rapidly or even alter the ways in which our genes work.

Part I gets kudos for being informative and accessible, but the presumptions of Part II make for a controversial conclusion.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-23681-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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