Well-informed and accessible, but incomplete.

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CHEATING DEATH

THE DOCTORS AND MEDICAL MIRACLES THAT ARE SAVING LIVES AGAINST ALL ODDS

In this followup to Chasing Life (2007), neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Gupta illustrates just how fuzzy the line between life and death can be, and explains what medicine and science are doing to blur it even further.

When the heart stops, when tests indicate “brain death,” when a patient hasn’t breathed for an hour or more—these have long been understood as hard-and-fast markers of death. Gupta uses real-life stories to reveal how ambiguous these situations actually are: a skier who was successfully resuscitated after spending more than an hour frozen underwater; a man who emerged from a coma unscathed after having been declared a “vegetable”; a 22-week-old fetus whose damaged heart was repaired in utero. These stories and the science behind them are rounded out with a look at those who seek to cheat death even further. Researchers challenge the status quo on CPR, doctors experiment with “therapeutic hypothermia” and scientists seek to induce suspended animation in injured soldiers by mimicking the chemistry of hibernating animals. Gupta always presents fascinating information, even if the prose is occasionally clumsy and the storytelling inelegant. The author tries to bring a balanced perspective to each issue. The chapter on “Cheating Death in the Womb,” for instance, includes a much-needed counterpoint by a sociologist who emphasizes that pregnant women are patients in their own right, not simply fetal “heart-lung machines.” Because Gupta focuses only on the “medical miracles,” however, he misses an opportunity for an important cost-benefit analysis of the highly risky and often-unsuccessful attempts to “cheat death.”

Well-informed and accessible, but incomplete.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-50887-2

Page Count: 262

Publisher: Wellness Central/Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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