An astute AIDS retrospective blended with contemporary updates on aggressive medical strategies.



A fascinating discourse on how medical science is zeroing in on an HIV vaccine after several anomalous triumphs.

With the AIDS epidemic now in its fourth decade, award-winning HIV research scientist Holt believes “we are only just beginning to understand our shared evolution with viruses.” Still, she offers increasing hope for a cure by spotlighting the two male “Berlin Patients” and several others, including a child, who chemically bombarded and expunged the HIV virus from their bodies. The author tracks the enduring histories of these men—German-born Christian Hahn and Timothy Brown, an American—from the detection of their initial viral prodromes to the astonishing depletion of HIV-infected cells from their bodies, prompting clinical trials and controversial research. Holt also profiles HIV specialists Heiko Jessen, Bruce Walker and David Ho as part of a frustrated yet galvanized group of professionals working toward developing new therapies to either counterbalance HIV’s onslaught on a vulnerable immune system or, ideally, discover a way to have the virus coexist with its human host. The author includes research that field experts consider “pertinent and exciting,” and the result makes for educative, thought-provoking and frequently alarming reading. Textbook descriptions on the intricacies of HIV’s tactical viral transmission commingle with a timeline spanning from an era when a seropositive test result equaled a sure death sentence. The author also examines controversial trials of AZT drug therapies, stem cell transplants, and the genetic suppression and inexplicable eradication of the virus from a fortunate few. Holt further supports her subject with graphic illustrations and a well-balanced assortment of interviews and opinions from doctors, genetic scientists and informed researchers, all unified in the global battle to find a cure.

An astute AIDS retrospective blended with contemporary updates on aggressive medical strategies.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-525-95392-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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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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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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