BREATH TAKING

THE POWER, FRAGILITY, AND FUTURE OF OUR EXTRAORDINARY LUNGS

Brains and hearts preoccupy science writers, so this rare exploration of lungs fills a need.

Pulmonologist Stephen cannot conceal his enthusiasm for his favorite organ as he mixes evolution, medical history, autobiography, and vivid stories of patients with a skillful account of how lungs operate and how we might take better care of them. Latecomers on the evolutionary scene, lungs arrived well after hearts and brains, when fish began leaving the ocean about 400 million years ago. They have a dual purpose: “bringing oxygen in while keeping everything else out. The latter objective is almost impossible…since we take more than fifteen thousand breaths a day.” Along with life-giving oxygen, we inhale waste from factories, vehicles, heating systems, stoves, farms, and construction sites; we also sometimes add toxins that make us feel good. Heart disease and cancer have been declining for decades in the U.S. “In 2008,” writes the author, “respiratory diseases in the United States for the first time replaced stroke as the third-deadliest disease.” Stephen’s expert review of his field’s diseases reveals that lung cancer remains by far the deadliest malignancy. Almost universal in the 19th century and nearly conquered in the 20th, tuberculosis is on the rise and resistant to most antibiotics. Allergies and asthma make up an ongoing epidemic while lung transplants, miraculous when they succeed, are still a work in progress. “The greatest medical story never told” may be that of cystic fibrosis: Before World War II, it was fatal in infancy, but a cure is on the horizon. CF, he writes, “brings together the three main themes of this book—the central importance of the lungs, the courage of patients afflicted by a devastating illness, and the importance of hard work, intelligent observation, and collaboration in the advancement of medical science.” Stephen manages to include Covid-19 but mostly as a lesson in how it spreads; masks help. Regarding yoga, mindfulness, and breathing exercises, the author delivers unimpressive studies but inspiring anecdotes.

Valuable popular science.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4931-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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More thought-provoking work from an important creator.

THE SECRET TO SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH

The acclaimed graphic memoirist returns to themes of self-discovery, this time through the lens of her love of fitness and exercise.

Some readers may expect Bechdel to be satisfied with her career. She was the 2014 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and her bestselling memoirs, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? both earned universally rave reviews, with the former inspiring a Broadway musical that won five Tony awards. But there she was, in her mid-50s, suffering from “a distinct sense of dread” and asking herself, “where had my creative joy gone?” Ultimately, she found what she was seeking, or at least expanded her search. In what she calls “the fitness book,” the author recounts, from her birth to the present, the exercise fads that have swept the nation for decades, from the guru-worship of Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne through running, biking, hiking, “feminist martial arts,” yoga, and mountain climbing. “I have hared off after almost every new fitness fad to come down the pike for the last six decades,” she writes. Yet this book is about more than just exercise. Bechdel’s work always encompasses multiple interlocking themes, and here she delves into body image; her emerging gay consciousness; the connection between nature and inner meaning; how the transcendentalists were a version of the hippies a century earlier; and how her own pilgrimage is reminiscent of both Margaret Fuller and Jack Kerouac, whose stories become inextricably entwined in these pages with Bechdel’s. The author’s probing intelligence and self-deprecating humor continue to shimmer through her emotionally expressive drawings, but there is so much going on (familial, professional, romantic, cultural, spiritual) that it is easy to see how she became overwhelmed—and how she had to learn to accept the looming mortality that awaits us all. In the end, she decided to “stop struggling,” a decision that will relieve readers as well.

More thought-provoking work from an important creator.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-544-38765-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

F*CK IT, I'LL START TOMORROW

The chef, rapper, and TV host serves up a blustery memoir with lashings of self-help.

“I’ve always had a sick confidence,” writes Bronson, ne Ariyan Arslani. The confidence, he adds, comes from numerous sources: being a New Yorker, and more specifically a New Yorker from Queens; being “short and fucking husky” and still game for a standoff on the basketball court; having strength, stamina, and seemingly no fear. All these things serve him well in the rough-and-tumble youth he describes, all stickball and steroids. Yet another confidence-builder: In the big city, you’ve got to sink or swim. “No one is just accepted—you have to fucking show that you’re able to roll,” he writes. In a narrative steeped in language that would make Lenny Bruce blush, Bronson recounts his sentimental education, schooled by immigrant Italian and Albanian family members and the mean streets, building habits good and bad. The virtue of those habits will depend on your take on modern mores. Bronson writes, for example, of “getting my dick pierced” down in the West Village, then grabbing a pizza and smoking weed. “I always smoke weed freely, always have and always will,” he writes. “I’ll just light a blunt anywhere.” Though he’s gone through the classic experiences of the latter-day stoner, flunking out and getting arrested numerous times, Bronson is a hard charger who’s not afraid to face nearly any challenge—especially, given his physique and genes, the necessity of losing weight: “If you’re husky, you’re always dieting in your mind,” he writes. Though vulgar and boastful, Bronson serves up a model that has plenty of good points, including his growing interest in nature, creativity, and the desire to “leave a legacy for everybody.”

The lessons to draw are obvious: Smoke more dope, eat less meat. Like-minded readers will dig it.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4478-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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