A lively, hilarious and informative look at science’s dirty secrets.

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THE CURIOUS COUPLING OF SCIENCE AND SEX

Wondering whether orgasms make sows more fertile? Turn to Roach for the answer.

One of the funniest and most madcap of science writers, the author has approached sticky subjects to hilarious effect in her two previous books. Stiff (2003) looked at the many uses to which human cadavers have been put, while Spook (2005) told of science’s attempts to understand the afterlife. Her latest is no less captivating or entertaining, as she flings wide the closed doors behind which the scientific study of coitus has traditionally been conducted. Roach details the careers of sex researchers Alfred Kinsey, William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Marie Bonaparte (Napoleon’s great-grand-niece) and porn-star-turned-Ph.D. Annie Sprinkle, among others. Such researchers “to this day, endure ignorance, closed minds, righteousness, and prudery,” she writes. “Their lives are not easy. But their cocktail parties are the best.” Emulating her subjects’ daring spirit, Roach displays a firm belief that there is no question too goofy to ask—or, barring that, to Google. What happens when you implant a monkey testicle in a man: Does he get more vital, or does he get an infection? She explores centuries of research into such questions as how penile implants work (a pump could be involved); whether surgically relocating the clitoris can lead to better sex (no); why the human penis is shaped as it is (to scoop out competitors’ sperm); and what exactly is going on when it enters a vagina (shockingly, there is still much to learn). Apart from its considerable comic value, the book also emulates its predecessors by illustrating a precept of scientific research: The passion to know, in the face of censure and propriety, is what advances our understanding of the world.

A lively, hilarious and informative look at science’s dirty secrets.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-06464-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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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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