HAVING BABIES

THE PATIENTS, THE DOCTORS, THE DRAMAS AND JOYS, NINE MONTHS INSIDE AN OBSTETRICAL PRACTICE

A look at pregnancy and childbirth as they are experienced by patients of an obstetrical practice in a wealthy New Jersey town. In the prologue, longtime book publisher Congdon informs us that he decided to write about the ``adventure'' of childbirth because ``women try to inform each other, but...the accounts sometimes grow sensational...the purpose can be to impress, or appall.'' This patronizing tone taints much of the book, which centers on a story-book couple, Susan and Tracy MacGregor. From the time the handsome, home-owning newlyweds arrive at the doctor's office to be told that Susan is pregnant, the book follows their smooth progress at a distance while giving detailed descriptions of how a fetus develops and its mother changes during pregnancy. Snapshots of other pregnancies, many of them far from trouble-free, are offered as the author observes—and the doctors and nurses maintain a running commentary on—a range of patients. There are also descriptions of often horrific obstetrical theories and methods in vogue at various times in the past; a discussion of the pros and cons of ``natural'' childbirth; a carefully constructed argument for the array of obstetrical technologies offered today, especially epidural anesthesia; and more than any lay reader is likely to want to know about the growing pains this small New Jersey practice experiences in adjusting to the presence of a new partner. Then Susan feels her first contractions, and the narrative zooms in for an extreme closeup of her son's birth, devoting six compelling chapters to her labor and delivery. This book may be most valuable decades from now as a portrait of state-of-the-art obstetrics in the 1990s. Meanwhile, it offers mothers-to-be and their partners a clear and accessible, if somewhat condescending, explanation of the mechanics of birth.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-671-76708-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1994

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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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