A rollercoaster of hope and despair, told with emotional honesty and couched in suspense.




An absorbing, blow-by-blow account of life and death in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), from the father of premature twins.

Woodwell (Choosing the President: A Citizens Guide to the 2000 Election, not reviewed) strays from his usual territory to write this intensely personal story of the tragedy that struck him and his wife several years ago. Diagnosed with preeclampsia, Kim Woodwell was forced to deliver twin girls, Josie and Nina, four months before they were due. The author recounts the excitement the couple shared upon learning they were to have twins, the fear he felt as Kim underwent surgery, and the helplessness of watching their daughters, both weighing less than a pound, struggle for life, dependant on a seemingly endless barrage of life-sustaining equipment, medications, and injections. Woodwell juxtaposes the narrative of this painful period with excerpts from his journal and the hospital’s reports on the babies’ conditions. The reader is thus exposed to the different lenses of raw emotion, sentimental clarity, and cool medical analysis. He describes their feeling at seeing their child “unmoving, pale and thin,” and compares it to the hospital assessment that the child is “hemodynamically unstable.” He simultaneously expresses frustration and admiration at the science and medicine involved in sustaining life, observing, “It’s the babies, not the doctors or the technology, that are running the show.” Ultimately, this is a testimony to the complexity of human life, concluding that birth is truly miraculous given the challenges involved. “Considering all of the things that could easily go wrong, and that often do, every child that comes into the world on schedule and according to plan is a gift.” Woodwell’s emotional journey ends in the realization that “. . . all that life is precious—precious enough to be saved, no matter the cost.”

A rollercoaster of hope and despair, told with emotional honesty and couched in suspense.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-57806-374-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Univ. Press of Mississippi

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


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.


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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