WHY WE GET SICK

THE NEW THEORY OF DARWINIAN MEDICINE

Some surprising answers to questions about why our bodies are designed the way they are and why we get the diseases we do. Nesse, a physician (Psychiatry/Univ. of Michigan) and Williams (Ecology and Evolution/SUNY, Stony Brook) first teamed up to write an article on Darwinian medicine, which applies the concept of adaptation by natural selection to medical questions. That article, published in 1991 in The Quarterly Review of Biology, has been expanded into the present book, in which the authors look at the design characteristics of the human body that make it susceptible to disease. Their conclusions? First, sometimes it's our genes that make us vulnerable to disease. Some genetic defects arise through mutations, but more often, genes with deleterious effects are maintained through natural selection because their benefits outweigh their costs. Second, there's a mismatch between our present environment and the one that over thousands of years shaped our hunter-gatherer ancestors. There simply hasn't been time for our bodies to adapt, and we suffer the consequences. Third, disease results from design compromises. For example, the structural changes that allowed us to develop from horizontal four-footed creatures to upright two-footed ones left us vulnerable to back problems. Fourth, our evolutionary history has left us some troublesome legacies, such as the unfortunate intersection in our throats of the passages for food and air. Some of the areas Nesse and Williams apply their Darwinian approach to are infectious diseases, allergies, cancer, aging, reproduction, and mental disorders. Happily, they write with impeccable clarity, and when they are speculating (which they do freely), they are careful to say so. They also offer numerous suggestions for research studies, thoughtful proposals for reshaping medical textbooks and medical education, and a scenario dramatizing Darwinian medicine's possible clinical application. Fascinating reading for doctors and patients alike.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8129-2224-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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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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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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