A periodically interesting, though occasionally dense discussion of human hormones.


An attempt to show how the wisdom of ancient science explains the effect of hormonal shifts in the context of modern science, and how understanding and controlling hormones can improve people’s lives.

Peck illuminates how humans can tap into their higher powers using truths from ancient texts such as the Rudrayamala of India, and how those truths are borne out by the science of modern endocrinology. In chapters with titles like “Hormones and the Ancient Nectar of the Gods,” the author tries to connect the ancients’ claims–such as the ability to mentally gird one’s self, thus increasing outer physical powers–with his modern-day controlled experiments showing the success of such techniques to improve response time. Peck, a retired scientist, also addresses the process of becoming a god, through what’s best described as meditation and self-stimulation to produce hormonal benefits. Some of the author’s most interesting writing is offered through anecdotal material (he’s 80 and enjoys with his wife an “ever-increasing ecstasy, union, vitality, sexuality, and creativity”) and his free-ranging footnotes, from scientific journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association to bestsellers like The G Spot. The book also includes a variety of translations of texts addressing ancient hormone-controlling practices, including the Hathapradipika and the RigVeda; readers may be tempted to skip over the many sections containing the original verses in favor of the author’s interesting translations. The author’s discussion of self-directed hormonal changes–some of which involve stimulating the breasts and the perineum–may initially strike the reader as odd, but his frank discussion of how such subjects became taboo and how they make sense in light of recent scientific research (for example, on the benefits of tears and laughter in producing beneficial hormonal changes) makes them seem more credible. Though the author attempts to use direct, easy-to-understand language, the nature of his work–drawing on both current scientific research and ancient texts–inevitably leads into some challenging reading, despite his best intentions.

A periodically interesting, though occasionally dense discussion of human hormones.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-917828-12-6

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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A quirky wonder of a book.



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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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