Fascinating, funny and occasionally shocking—should be at the top of every pregnant woman’s reading list.

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BIRTH

THE SURPRISING HISTORY OF HOW WE ARE BORN

Former Boston Globe editor Cassidy explores the way childbirth has changed, from pre-history to the present.

Women have always borne children, but how people have thought about the process is far from static. Cassidy got interested in the topic after realizing that three generations of women in her family had completely different expectations about what childbirth should be like. Here she considers the development of the epidural, the relationship between midwifery and obstetrics, the current trend toward conveniently scheduled C-sections and shifting ideas about the father’s appropriate place: by the laboring woman’s bedside, or in the waiting room? One of the more amusing sections here details the attempts of cultures around the world to induce labor. The Egyptian Siwa tried to scare tardy babies into entering the world by shooting two rifles near the expectant mother. Midwives in France’s Auvergne region placed a chicken on the stomach of a pregnant woman, hoping the bird’s claws would prompt labor. Other cultures have shaken pregnant women on blankets or hung them from trees. Cassidy doesn’t limit herself to sociological or cultural changes. In her captivating first chapter, she addresses how evolution has affected childbirth. Most mammals have a much easier time giving birth than do humans, because their birth canals are roomier. Walking upright, as people do, requires a compact pelvis, and humans have bigger brains than any other mammal. In other words, the very combination of features that allow people their place at the top of the evolutionary heap, large heads and small pelvises, combine to make birth terrifically difficult. “If we had just one more inch of pelvic width,” Cassidy explains, “there might be no need for cesareans, forceps, vacuums, extraction hooks, and episiotomies.”

Fascinating, funny and occasionally shocking—should be at the top of every pregnant woman’s reading list.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2006

ISBN: 0-87113-938-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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