A fine, poignant survey of “what makes us human, from the inside out.”

AROUSED

THE HISTORY OF HORMONES AND HOW THEY CONTROL JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING

A tour of the history of endocrinology, highlighting progress but also the hype that has promoted the curative abilities of hormones.

Epstein (Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, 2010), who has a medical degree and masters of public health, explores the long-held beliefs in the power of glandular “juices,” but she credits two British researchers at the dawn of the 20th century as the founders of the science of endocrinology. Their canine experiments showed that a chemical released by the pancreas aids digestion without the involvement of the nervous system. By 1905, the word hormone had been coined, and the science took off. In successive chapters the author highlights selected hormones, but not before she introduces the “Fat Bride,” a 517-pound sideshow star who, along with giants and bearded ladies, is now considered a victim of hormones gone awry. Epstein devotes a chapter to Harvey Cushing, the brain surgeon who described the hormones secreted by the pituitary gland that also stimulate secretions of other glands. By the 1920s, hormones were touted as being responsible for emotions and behaviors. The ’20s also saw the launch of a long fad for vasectomies, touted as the sure cure for declining libido and other aging male ills. Later chapters also deal with sexual themes. At one time, it was decided that babies born with ambiguous sexual organs should be assigned either a male or female sex designation and have corrective surgery in the first year of life. This is wrong, given current understanding of the complexity of sex determinants; Epstein makes this clear in a sensitive chapter on trans individuals. As for the sex hormones themselves, the hype continues. Not so long ago, estrogen was the dream hormone that would cure hot flashes and ward off heart disease and Alzheimer’s. It’s true for hot flashes, but forget the rest. As for the virtues of testosterone, the hype goes on.

A fine, poignant survey of “what makes us human, from the inside out.”

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-23960-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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