Solid, well-reported science in the Gary Taubes mold.

THE BIG FAT SURPRISE

WHY BUTTER, MEAT AND CHEESE BELONG IN A HEALTHY DIET

Journalist Teicholz combs the science, or lack thereof, to learn how the fats in the American diet grew horns and cloven hooves.

“Almost nothing we commonly believe today about fats generally and saturated fats in particular appears, upon close examination, to be accurate,” writes the author. Appallingly, those are still fighting words when it comes to the mandarins who fashion our national health agenda, those crazy pyramids that flip on their heads now and again like the magnetic poles. Like a bloodhound, Teicholz tracks the process by which a hypothesis morphs into truth without the benefit of supporting data. The author explores how research dollars are spent to entrench the dogma, to defend it like an article of faith while burying its many weaknesses and contradictory test results. In this instance, Teicholz zeroes in on the worries over skyrocketing heart-disease figures in the 1950s. Some (flawed) epidemiological work suggested that serum cholesterol deposited plaque in arteries, leading to coronary disease. This type of associative simplicity is that spoonful of sugar: the easy fix everyone wants when long-term, clinical tests are needed to appreciate the complex processes involved. This desire to corner the bogeyman targeted the world of fats, and it has stayed that way despite all the evidence and advancements in medical science, especially endocrinological studies, that have pointed to other biomarkers. Galling, though hardly unexpected, is the role played by money and the power we let it bestow. There were reasons the food industry wanted to stick with trans fats as opposed to saturated fats, and Teicholz tics them off, and there are reasons that the next great hope, vegetable oils, have dangerous health issues hidden instead of heralded. Sixty years after the fat attack, “a significant body of clinical trials over the past decade has demonstrated the absence of any negative effect of saturated fat on heart disease, obesity, or diabetes.”

Solid, well-reported science in the Gary Taubes mold.

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2442-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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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