A fascinating, persuasive case for demythologizing yoga and recognizing its true value to mind and body.

A fair, well-reasoned assessment of the many extraordinary claims made for yoga.

Based on ancient ideas about the effect of body positions and breath control on mind and spirit, yoga first flowered in India as the centerpiece of Tantric cults that searched for enlightenment in sexual ecstasy. Its mostly male practitioners claimed the art endowed them with not only sexual prowess but also magical powers. One famous 19th-century yogi astonished his noble patron by seeming to come alive after being sealed for 40 days in a tomb with no food or water. Early-20th-century Indian rationalists proved many of those feats to be nothing more than magic tricks, but the art had a second flourishing in the West in the form of mostly low-impact exercise and meditation. Modern yogis and yoginis (their female counterparts) have continued to claim extraordinary powers for the new varieties of yoga, calling them miracle exercises that are completely safe and more aerobic and slimming than even running or swimming. New York Times senior writer Broad (The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Messages of Ancient Delphi, 2006, etc.), who has practiced yoga since 1970, carefully pulls apart these claims, citing decades of scientific research and medical practice. Even the most energetic poses, such as the Salutation to the Sun, writes the author, are barely more aerobic and trimming than sitting and watching those poses performed on TV. The author also shows that yoga, far from being “completely safe,” can often result in serious injuries, including stroke, brain and nerve injury and even death. However, Broad makes a convincing argument, firmly rooted in science, for yoga’s powers to heighten concentration, inspire creativity, improve moods—even to cure some physical conditions like torn rotator cuffs.

A fascinating, persuasive case for demythologizing yoga and recognizing its true value to mind and body.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4142-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012


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


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. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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