A book that should have wide appeal, not only to those fighting the battle of the bulge.

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THE SECRET LIFE OF FAT

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE BODY'S LEAST UNDERSTOOD ORGAN AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU

Americans spend more money on the war against fat than the war against terror. As Tara writes, “we are indeed a nation at war with a body part.”

After the birth of her second child, the author, who has a doctorate in biochemistry and has served as a consultant for major biotech companies, struggled to hold her weight in check with a combination of diet and exercise in order to pass what she describes as the “skinny jeans” test. From her adolescence, dieting and exercise had become an obsession but not a solution, and Tara was on a roller coaster, losing extra pounds on a starvation diet and then gaining them back just by eating dinner. Her professional training fueled her determination to find out why she gained weight while her friends, who ate more and exercised less, remained thin. Examining a variety of scientific studies, she made a surprising discovery. Experiments revealed what she calls “the obesity paradox,” which showed how fat plays an important part in maintaining our overall health. While obesity is a contributing factor to heart disease, the survival rate after heart failure is better for people with “a higher body mass index and higher fat.” Tara also discovered new reports suggesting the possibility that obesity is the result of a viral infection. Ongoing research has identified people with an antibody to the virus who gained significantly greater body mass over a 10-year period. Researchers have also found that fat stores stem cells, which play a vital role in replacing bone, muscle, and cartilage in the body. For Tara, this provides a convincing explanation of why there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of maintaining a healthy weight. The author ably combines an accessible explanation of how the body’s metabolism works with a clear survey of the latest research on obesity.

A book that should have wide appeal, not only to those fighting the battle of the bulge.

Pub Date: Dec. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24483-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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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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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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