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

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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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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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