Unsettling but realistic medical histories.



How the medical advances we take for granted came to be—and it’s not a pretty picture.

Offit, a professor of pediatrics and vaccinology, specializes in denouncing bad doctors and popular health nonsense. In his latest, he switches gears and follows the history of medical innovation. Though we are “at the dawn of a wondrous age,” he writes, there’s a “catch…virtually every medical breakthrough has exacted a human price.” He illustrates with gripping, often gruesome stories of the early years of lifesaving treatments plus other medical stories that are merely horrific. In 1967, South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard became a worldwide celebrity by transplanting the first human heart. Surgeons around the world rushed to follow suit, with terrible results. In 1968, only 10% of recipients lived for two years, a number that worsened the following year; by 1971, most hospitals had closed their transplant units. The story ends happily as more judicious surgeons refined their techniques, and heart transplants are now as routine as bypass surgery. Offit then chronicles other medical success stories with rough beginnings—e.g., a 1920 professional gathering of radiologists 20 years after X-rays became an essential medical tool: “So many attendees were missing hands and fingers that when the chicken dinner was served no one could cut their meat.” Every child with acute lymphoblastic leukemia died before the first treatment appeared in 1947. Most improved with the first chemotherapy but “eventually relapsed and died.” Today, drugs cure 90% of those cases, but many tragedies happened along the way. Offit also tells the sad story of Ryan White, a hemophiliac who, in 1984, was infected with AIDS via a blood transfusion. Although doctors agreed that no one could catch his disease, ignorant neighbors and school officials treated him heartlessly. Certainly, the maxim that no one should know how sausages are made applies here, but Offit is a fluid storyteller armed with decades of knowledge, and he provides an educative, though often distressing, reading experience.

Unsettling but realistic medical histories.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5416-2039-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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


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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