An easy-to-digest science lesson tailored for general readers.

A pop-science overview of muscles from the author of Bones: Inside and Out.

Meals, a professor of orthopedic surgery at UCLA, begins with a quick history that reveals how thinkers from all cultures taught mostly nonsense about human anatomy until the European Renaissance, when artists and researchers became obsessed with getting it right, so they began dissecting bodies. By the 19th century, scientists were able to show how muscles create movement. This is a subject less straightforward than anatomy, and the author’s admirable effort to explain it, heavy with analogies and diagrams, is generally accessible but may cause a few struggles for readers unfamiliar with biochemistry. Science buffs will perk up when he delivers the basics. Humans have 650 muscles, more or less (some are born missing a few, usually without a problem; others have extras), and there are three types. Most familiar are skeletal muscles, which make up about 40% of our weight and are under conscious control. Smooth muscles work automatically to control our digestive tract, urinary tract, blood vessels, and other housekeeping systems. Uniquely, cardiac muscle cells contract regularly without any neurological stimulus—and can do so for more than 100 years if properly cared for. In the chapter on muscle issues, Meals largely focuses on fatigue, strains, injuries, and aging, and he offers an amusing account of physical training programs throughout history. The author wisely devotes several chapters to exercise and sports, paying special attention to conditioning, nutrition, and muscle-building supplements, including a mildly skeptical review of performance enhancers and an entertaining review of cheating. Readers who suspect that many animals have muscles that produce bizarre phenomena will find plenty to engage in the chapter titled “Zoological Survey.” For example, even though the octopus has “a large brain for its body size, roughly two-thirds of tentacle control comes from nerve centers in the tentacles themselves.”

An easy-to-digest science lesson tailored for general readers.

Pub Date: June 13, 2023

ISBN: 9781324021445

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023


Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023


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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