A convincing case that the increasing numbers of babies born with barriers to optimal development are a consequence of...




A terrifying tale of pregnancy and birth that sounds an alarm about the growing dangers of environmental toxins to parents and their babies.

Biologist and ecologist Steingraber (Living Downstream, 1997) became pregnant at age 38, and determined to tell the story of the birth of her daughter, Faith, from an ecological point of view. Moving gracefully between hard science and tender personal anecdotes, she analyzes and explores the effects on her developing baby of the uterine environment, a “habitat . . . for a population of one.” Describing studies on the development of the embryo, in which all the body parts are assembled and ready to grow by about week ten, her concentration on this “fantastical” process is interrupted by morning sickness. Research reveals that nausea in pregnancy remains a female mystery, like PMS and hot flashes, because “the tools of medical research have never been fully deployed to demystify it.” Nor has research moved quickly to examine damage to the fetus from a deteriorating environment. For instance, the famously protective placenta is not a barrier against damage caused by pesticides, nicotine, PCBs, and other chemicals. A long and moving section on babies born with gross birth defects as a result of mercury in the food chain in Minamata, Japan, and the resistance of both government and industry to remove it, illustrates a recurring theme: that we live in a society that doesn’t know enough or care enough about fetal health. Steingraber carries her concerns past delivery (complaining in passing about the emphasis on medical intervention—like routine episiotomies—in childbirth) to breastfeeding. The rewards are undeniable, but the risks are growing as contaminants in the environment increase, finding their way to mother’s milk and affecting, in particular, the further development of the baby’s brain. An afterword offers a list of organizations active in struggling for a healthy environment and reducing birth defects.

A convincing case that the increasing numbers of babies born with barriers to optimal development are a consequence of environmental insults. Should send parents and would-be parents to the barricades.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7382-0467-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Perseus

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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