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In 2004 genetic testing revealed that Masha Gessen had a mutation that predisposed her to ovarian and breast cancer. The discovery initiated Gessen into a club of sorts: the small (but exponentially expanding) group of people in possession of a new and different way of knowing themselves through what is inscribed in the strands of their DNA. As she wrestled with a wrenching personal decision—what to do with such knowledge—Gessen explored the landscape of this brave new world, speaking with medical experts, religious thinkers, historians, and others facing genetic disorders. Blood Matters is a much needed field guide to this unfamiliar and unsettling territory. It explores the way genetic information is shaping the decisions we make, not only about our physical and emotional health but about whom we marry, the children we bear, even the personality traits we long to have. And it helps us come to terms with the radical transformation that genetic information is engineering in our most basic sense of who we are and what we might become.
This energetic but unfocused account awkwardly merges several strands: the author's experience with the threat of breast cancer, discussions of genetic inheritance in Jewish families and a look at how the ability to test for genetic predispositions to various diseases is changing lives. With a family history of breast cancer, journalist Gessen (Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia After Communism) was not surprised to learn she had inherited a "deleterious mutation" in the BRCA1 gene, one of two genes known to be linked to breast and ovarian cancer. The BRCA1 mutation was first discovered in Jewish women, a "compact population" with a higher-than-average breast cancer rate. Gessen describes her narrow options, with "nondirective counseling" steering her toward prophylactic removal of her breasts and ovaries. Then she jumps the track to talk about Dr. Henry Lynch, who, in 1966, first suggested that predisposition to cancer might be hereditary. Gessen also covers Huntington's disease, maple syrup disease among Old Order Mennonites, eugenics and how a genetic testing program is affecting marital choices for some Orthodox Jews. Gessen covers a fair amount of ground, but in a haphazard fashion. The book's strongest parts are on genetics and heredity in the Jewish community. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
An experienced journalist exploring issues that bear directly on her own life and health, Gessen here shares a personal journey that began in 2004, when she learned she had a "deleterious mutation" in a BRCA1 gene that predisposed her to ovarian and breast cancer. Like many of the people whom she interviewed for this book, Gessen faced decisions none thought or had to make just a few years earlier, beginning with whether to be tested at all. She unflinchingly describes her feelings, the reasons for her choices, and their consequences, also surveying the state of the science as practiced from academic medical centers to a clinic in the heart of Amish country. The narratives are fascinating, and the research is well documented. This distinctive combination of personal narrative and objective account tackles a subject that will continue to become increasingly important to us all; recommended for public libraries where patrons are proactive about their health.
"Blood Matters is valuable reading to almost anyone facing a huge health decision, not only for the literary commiseration it offers, but also for the inspired example of medical sleuthing on one''s own behalf that it provides ... The enduring memory one takes away is Gessen''s intelligence and wit as she''s staring down the barrel of a gun."
Excerpted from Blood Matters by Gessen, Masha Copyright © 2008 by Gessen, Masha. Excerpted by permission.
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Part 1 The Past
1 My Mother's Fatal Flaw 3
2 The Four Mothers of Jewsp15
3 The Post-Nazi Era 57
Part 2 The Present
4 Indecision 71
5 A Decision at Any Cost 78
6 The Father of Hereditary Cancers 117
7 The Cruelest Disease 139
8 The Science of Matchmaking 166
9 The Operation 191
Part 3 The Future
10 The Future the Old-Fashioned Way 199
11 Biobabble 238
12 What We Fear Most 264
Glossary of Key Terms 285
Notes on Sources 289
Posted February 14, 2012
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Posted April 6, 2010
No text was provided for this review.