Light, pleasant reading for both lovers of perfume and popular culture.




A British perfume aficionado’s breezy “tour” of some of the 20th century’s most popular scents.

In her debut, Ostrom examines 100 years of fragrance history, dividing the text into 10 chapters—each of which discusses 10 different perfumes—that cover a single decade in the 20th century. The earliest decades saw a turn from all-natural floral scents to those like Le Trèfle Incarnat, which incorporated such synthetic molecules as coumarin and vanillin. At the same time, perfume began to “seep beyond its traditional home among royalty and the aristocracy” and become a novelty for popular consumption. The 1920s and even the Depression-era ’30s saw a dazzling profusion of scents. These perfumes were sold as part of an elegant and liberated (for women) lifestyle, of the kind suggested by Chanel No. 5, which was declared a classic from the moment it was unveiled in 1921. World War II brought with it a scarcity of production and shift away from France as the sole center of fragrance production. American perfumes like White Shoulders began to arrive on the scene. With the ’50s came a return to elegance, but without the free-spiritedness of the ’20s. Change and rebellion characterized the scents of the ’60s, which ran the gamut from classics like Shalimar to the hippie favorite, patchouli oil. The ’70s were an era of “blockbuster perfumes” intended for mass consumption—e.g., Love's Baby Soft. In the decade that followed, scent “grew in volume” to become “an extension” of female and, increasingly, exposed and glorified male bodies. After the excesses of the ’80s, the ’90s brought a refreshing unisex simplicity and youthfulness, of the kind found in CK One, Tommy Girl and Joop! Homme. Witty and informative, Ostrom’s history reveals the way fragrance speaks for historical eras while also evoking them.

Light, pleasant reading for both lovers of perfume and popular culture.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68177-246-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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