An appealingly complex narrative of a successful quest, with recipes for the home baker.

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GRAIN OF TRUTH

THE REAL CASE FOR AND AGAINST WHEAT AND GLUTEN

Playwright and screenwriter Yafa (Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber, 2004) debunks the claim by “the anti-gluten medical contingent” that wheat is unhealthy because it contains gluten, a protein that supposedly contributes to “obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and more.”

The author suggests that store-bought bread and cereals have been stripped of their nutritional value in order to increase profitability—e.g., by replacing more labor-intensive stone grinding by roller mills and speeding the time of fermentation during baking. Furthermore, bread makers often deliberately remove fiber and wheat germ in order to create easily digestible, popular products such as hamburger buns. This process strips them of their nutritional value, leaving them heavy on starch. “Nobody wants to hear that humans, not nature's gluten all on its own, might be the source of the problem with wheat,” writes the author. Moreover, he points out, since it is the main source of nourishment for much of the world's population, removing wheat from the picture could cause famine. The author's personal confrontation with the issue came when his wife returned from a weekend at a health spa, convinced that gluten was the cause of her muscular distress. An avid home baker as well an investigative journalist, Yafa was soon hot on the trail of the booming new industry of gluten-free products, many of which have less nutritional value than traditional versions. “Real nourishing and delicious bread did not seem to be getting a fair hearing,” he writes, and he delivers on his claim to “tell a more balanced, less sensational story about wheat.” He reports on his months of travel meeting with experts—microbiologists, organic farmers, artisan bakers, specialty chefs, and more—in order to deepen his understanding of the art and science of bread making and its history.

An appealingly complex narrative of a successful quest, with recipes for the home baker.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59463-249-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Hudson Street/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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