While Smith’s text sometimes reads like a doctoral dissertation, all that meticulousness adds weight and authority to the...




A scholarly history of food allergy.

Smith (Health and Healthcare/Univ. of Strathclyde; Hyperactive: The Controversial History of ADHD, 2012, etc.) writes that food allergy has been riven by ideological controversy since the word “allergy” was coined in 1906. Sure, the ancients knew that some foods made people sick. However, at the turn of the 20th century, little was known about the immune system, and all doctors could go by was patient reports of headaches or upset stomachs when they ate certain foods. Moreover, the skin tests used to diagnose hay fever or asthma were unreliable in detecting food allergies. So practitioners split into two camps: orthodox allergists believed that few food allergies existed; others saw a cornucopia of problematic foods, which after World War II, grew to include food dyes and other additives. Some became “clinical ecologists” who added the dangers of modern environments and developed elaborate toxicity tests and elimination diets. By the 1960s, the discovery of the immune system molecules responsible for allergic reactions led orthodox allergists to increase their limited roster of allergy-causing foods. Then came the peanut. In the 1990s, there was a rash of sensational stories of children dying within minutes of unwittingly imbibing traces of peanut or even food cooked in peanut oil. The resulting paranoia led to today’s bans on serving peanuts on airplanes and in other public places, along with educational alerts. But how do we account for the rise in peanut and other food allergies and autoimmune diseases? It’s frustratingly elusive, writes the author, who cites popular theories like the hygiene hypothesis as well as the hope for peanut desensitization therapies. But as a historian, he is more interested in a century’s lack of medical research to find answers than in defending old dogmas and definitions, a situation he finds parallel to the history of psychiatry.

While Smith’s text sometimes reads like a doctoral dissertation, all that meticulousness adds weight and authority to the evidence of the serious shortcomings of a medical specialty.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-231-16484-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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Authoritative and, most helpfully, accessible.



Self-help guide for diabetes sufferers, mostly in question-and-answer format, with an emphasis on helping racial and ethnic minority diabetics.

Coleman is a pharmacist with a doctorate in her specialty, Gavin a Ph.D. and M.D. Aside from acknowledgments and a foreword signed by Gavin alone, their voices and expertise are indistinguishable, offering lucid, simple solutions for diabetes patients. Gavin relates watching his great-grandmother endure debilitating pain as a result of diabetes while he visited her as a youngster. He remembers hearing adults mention that sugar killed her, and he wondered how something that tasted sweet could cause so much harm. As an adult, he realized that his great-grandmother's affliction could be controlled through treatment. The authors focus on Type 2 diabetes, the most common form in minority populations. An estimated 18.2 million Americans are diabetic, with perhaps 5 million unaware of their situation. About 11 percent of U.S. diabetics are African-American, and about 8 percent are Latino. The question-and-answer format begins with an overview section about diabetes, with an emphasis on risk factors. Section Two covers management of the disease, including nutrition, exercise, blood-testing, oral medications and insulin use. In addition, the authors continually recommend smoking cessation, as well as instructing patients on the readiness of self-treatment. Section Three explains the complications—high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease—that could arise if the condition remains untreated or treated ineffectively. The questions in all of the sections are worded simply, and the answers are usually free of medical jargon. Though the sudden shifts in tone and voice are occasionally jarring, the writing remains clear enough to distill the facts. The real downside here, though: patronizing, laughable illustrations that degrade the overall product.

Authoritative and, most helpfully, accessible.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2004

ISBN: 0-9746948-0-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2010

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