Moalem’s lively and enthusiastic treatise offers enough plausible explanations for interesting phenomena that you’ll be...

READ REVIEW

SURVIVAL OF THE SICKEST

A MEDICAL MAVERICK DISCOVERS WHY WE NEED DISEASE

Certain disease-related genes may make you sick but protect you from a worse fate—death—argues unconventional medical researcher Moalem.

Currently completing his training at Mount Sinai School of Medicine (he already has a Ph.D. in neurogenetics and evolutionary medicine), the author includes many examples to support his contention that “one man’s disease is another man’s cure.” People with a genetic tendency for sickle-cell anemia, for example, have better natural resistance to malaria. Moalem provides evidence that a hereditary condition called hemochromatosis, which causes iron to build up in the body, may have arisen to protect people from plague and that vulnerability to diabetes may have been an adaptation to ice ages. The accumulation of sugar in blood made more concentrated by frequent urination lowers the freezing point so people don’t freeze to death, he asserts. Dark-skinned people moving to northern climates may be more susceptible to heart disease because they carry genes for the excess cholesterol they needed in areas of intense sunlight. Other sections describe how plants and animals co-evolve as they adapt to climate changes and how a parasite like the Guinea worm “manipulates its victims to collaborate in the infection of others.” We should use such knowledge to develop new strategies to defeat parasites rather than relying on drugs, Moalem suggests. He sees hope for ways to combat cancer that involve turning on or off selected genes—indeed, he has much to say about the dynamism of the human genome. The final chapters report research suggesting that environmental events in early pregnancy may have far-reaching effects on offspring. The author also takes seriously Elaine Morgan’s idea that human evolution may have involved an aquatic phase.

Moalem’s lively and enthusiastic treatise offers enough plausible explanations for interesting phenomena that you’ll be willing to forgive its more outré speculations.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-088965-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more