Sacred, erotic, domestic, even civic incarnations of the breast from Paleolithic times to the present in an ambitious catalogue of necessarily selective cultural history. ``I intend to make you think about women's breasts as you never have before,'' asserts Yalom, senior scholar at Stanford's Institute of Women and Gender (Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women's Memory, 1993, etc.). The late Middle Ages glorified the nursing Madonna, one in a long line of deities symbolizing female nurturance; Renaissance art exalted the erotic breast, to preserve which the upper classes turned to wet nurses; Enlightenment France endorsed Rousseau's campaign to restore breast-feeding, and (apotheosizing what Yalom calls the ``political breast''), represented the republic as a woman ``opening her breasts to all her citizens.'' Credit for coming up with the paradigm that united the maternal and erotic breasts goes of course to Freud—target, for the usual feminist reasons, of Yalom's considerable vitriol (up to this point, her text is underinflected). Some passion surfaces again on the subject of pornography (for Yalom the linkage of violence with sex), which appears in a chapter on the commercial breast merging women as buyers (of corsetry throughout the ages) and sellers (Monroe to Madonna and beyond, in what seems like an obligatory litany). In context, perhaps the most original contribution concerns breast cancer, which Yalom sees as affirming women's ownership of what has been variously claimed by and for others: She surveys treatments of today and yesterday, and buoyantly makes room for ``the medical breast'' again in her upbeat celebration of ``the liberated breast'' (in politics, poetry, pictures). The conclusion echoes the opening: Attitudes toward breasts have changed variously and radically over time depending on who was observing what, where, and when. Yalom trains her own lenses—telescopic, microscopic, or just idiosyncratic—on those variables, with uneven results. The bibliography, however, is a gem for any starting student. (98 illustrations) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-43459-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1996

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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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