A solid, up-to-date report on a growing area of scientific research.



More on the hygiene hypothesis by a science writer who has searched the literature, traveled the world and interviewed scores of scientists who attribute a rise in allergies, autoimmune disease, asthma and many other disorders in our sanitized societies to an imbalance in our immune systems.

Velasquez-Manoff writes that, until the Industrial Revolution, the human body was host to a rich microbiota of bacteria, viruses, parasites and pests. From birth, the immune system learned to respond to these fellow travelers by attacking deadly pathogens, collaborating with useful flora (such as bacteria that help digest food) and tolerating parasites like intestinal worms. With the rise of modernity came the movement from farms to cities, where smaller families are served by clean water and sewer systems. Then came antibiotics, deworming medicine, processed foods, etc.—the whole panoply of life in the developed world. Left without our “old friends,” the parasites in our guts, we now have an immune system that has turned against the body’s own cells, causing an increase in irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, eczema and a slew of other diseases that are on the rise, such as autism, diabetes, some cancers, heart disease and dementia. The problem is that the evidence to confirm the immune connection is largely based on observational studies, epidemiological associations or animal experiments, to which must be added the role of diet, genetic factors and other variables. Nonetheless, desperate patients have chosen to self-medicate with intestinal worms, including the author. To his credit, he carefully reviews this undisciplined field and reveals his own experience. The massive data he presents, the insights into the role of the gut as orchestrator of immune responses, and the revelations coming from the completion of the Human Microbiome Project should spur much-needed research in the field. Velasquez-Manoff concludes with a discussion of the clinical trials in the works to test worms in treating multiple sclerosis, autism, peanut allergies and other maladies.

A solid, up-to-date report on a growing area of scientific research.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9938-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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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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