RACING TO THE BEGINNING OF THE ROAD

THE SEARCH FOR THE ORIGIN OF CANCER

Here's a fascinating look at cutting-edge scientific research—the identification of cancer's origins—from a man who has been near its center for nearly three decades. Weinberg (Biomedical Research/MIT) has the advantage of having actually worked with or competed against many of the scientists who are the stars of his story. Beginning in the 1950s, the search for the causes of cancer began to focus on two areas: the body of evidence implicating various possible carcinogens (tobacco smoke, asbestos, etc.) and the equally strong evidence that many cancers could be caused by viruses. The discrepancy was not resolved until it became clear how certain normally harmless genes (known as oncogenes) can become active and send the cells of which they are a part into cancerous growth. Weinberg gives this discovery full attention, as he does the linked discovery of a tumor-suppressing gene that can be damaged by carcinogens. But his account is most notable for its memorable portraits of the scientists themselves, among them Ernst Wynder, who first established a link between smoking and lung cancer; Howard Temin and David Baltimore, who discovered the mechanism by which retroviruses reproduce; and the brilliant but erratic Sol Spiegelman, himself a cancer victim. Weinberg's knowledge of the key players is matched by his ability to tell their collective story, doing justice to the scientific facts and making their significance clear to the lay reader. He is also eloquent on the politics of science, where the competition for grants and for Nobels is cutthroat. Nor does he ignore the scandals and disasters: Premature announcements of shaky results, grudges nursed for years, careers ruined by botched experiments. As the result of this research, our understanding of cancer has dramatically increased, and new techniques for fighting it may be expected to follow. Scientific history at its most compelling—strongly recommended.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-517-59118-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1996

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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 absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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