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

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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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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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