Coney (The Unfortunate Experiment, not reviewed) argues that although the medical profession presents menopause as a disease, it is a natural life passage that many women experience painlessly and some even welcome. Women's value has historically been tied to their ability to reproduce. Menopause, marking the end of a woman's childbearing years, is therefore more stigmatized than male midlife. Coney believes that doctors and drug manufacturers have exploited this social prejudice, and middle-aged women's attendant insecurities, by exaggerating both the menopausal ``symptoms'' (hot flashes, depression, etc.) and the curative powers of estrogen and by underselling the dangers of hormone treatments. In particular, she argues that general practitioners and pharmaceutical companies have blown the osteoporosis risk out of proportion while minimizing proven links between estrogen treatments and endometrial cancer. Coney's depictions of the sexism surrounding the hormone craze are well supported; she provides examples of ads with misogynist slogans, such as ``Menrium treats the menopausal symptoms that bother him the most,'' and doctors' descriptions of the physical unattractiveness of the postmenopausal female body. Unfortunately, though, Coney's prose is repetitive, often confusing, and polemical. She is so intent on exposing sexist medical ideologies that she often fails to supply statistics or hard facts where they are needed, sometimes assuming that if researchers are working from politically questionable premises, they couldn't possibly come to scientifically sound conclusions. She also has an irritating tendency to assume that women are uncritical dupes of the medical industry, declaring them ``naive'' and ``oblivious to the deeply sexist ideology underlying the options that are placed before [them].'' The book has a preface by Paula Doress-Worters, coauthor of The New Our Bodies, Ourselves, and a foreword by Barbara Seaman, cofounder of the National Women's Health Network. Seriously flawed, but adds a valuable perspective to a highly charged debate. (42 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-89793-161-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1994

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


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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