Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

4.2 11
by Florence Williams
     
 

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Feted and fetishized, the breast is an evolutionary masterpiece. But in the modern world, the breast is changing. Breasts are getting bigger, arriving earlier and attracting newfangled chemicals. Increasingly, the odds are stacked against us in the struggle with breast cancer, even among men. What makes breasts so mercurial—and so vulnerable?

The intrepid

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Overview

Feted and fetishized, the breast is an evolutionary masterpiece. But in the modern world, the breast is changing. Breasts are getting bigger, arriving earlier and attracting newfangled chemicals. Increasingly, the odds are stacked against us in the struggle with breast cancer, even among men. What makes breasts so mercurial—and so vulnerable?

The intrepid science journalist Florence Williams sets out to uncover the latest science from the fields of anthropology, biology, and medicine. Her investigation follows the life cycle of the breast from puberty to pregnancy to menopause, bringing her from a plastic surgeon’s office where she learns about the importance of cup size in Texas to the lab where she discovers the presence of environmental toxins in her own breast milk. Endowed with a witty and inquisitive voice, Williams explores where breasts came from, where they have ended up, and what we can do to save them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her comprehensive “environmental history” of the only human body part without its own medical specialty, Outside contributing editor Williams focuses on the importance of understanding breasts as more than sex objects: they act as “a particularly fine mirror of our industrial lives.” Americans have 10 to 40 times the amount of flame retardant chemicals in their breast milk as Europeans, for example, and improved nutrition is responsible for earlier onset of puberty in girls—which is linked to higher breast cancer risk. “You know we’re living in a strange world when we have to biopsy our furniture,” Williams comments. She sweeps the reader along a journey extending from the evolution of human breasts from sweat glands, through cosmetic breast enhancements, the science and politics of breastfeeding, and possible links between pollutants and breast cancer in both women and men. Her clear explanations of biology and other technical matters ensure that readers without a scientific background can follow her account.She concludes with recommendations for individuals and governments to prevent further breast-related health problems. Williams puts hard data and personal history together with humor, creating an evenhanded cautionary tale that will both amuse and appall. Illus. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Literary Agency. (May)
Booklist
“Starred Review. ...exceptional history... with smarts, sass, and intent.... Meant to nurture the next generation for life on planet Earth, breasts are also humanity’s first responders to environmental changes. And what have modern-day chemical exposures wrought? The answers to this question and many more are found in Williams’ remarkably informative and compelling work of discovery.”
Mary Roach
“Florence Williams's double-D talents as a reporter and writer lift this book high above the genre and separate it from the ranks of ordinary science writing. Breasts is illuminating, surprising, clever, important. Williams is an author to savor and look forward to.”
Carl Zimmer
“Be brave, buy this book, and withstand the giggles and sniggers of your friends. For here is a wonderful history, stretching across hundreds of millions of years, of an astonishingly complex part of the human body. Williams weaves together research on nutrition, cancer, psychology, and even structural engineering to create a fascinating portrait of the breast: that singular gland that gave us, as mammals, our very name.”
Kirkus Reviews
Five decades after Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, breasts may have replaced birds as early indicators of chemically induced catastrophe. According to Outside editor Williams, breasts are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine, warning us of environmental damage that may be causing early puberty, breast-milk contamination and other maladies. "Breasts are an ecosystem," she writes, "governed by long-evolved functions, migrating molecules, and interconnected parts." Williams buoys her arguments by interviewing a host of scientists, surgeons, breast-implant candidates and even former Marines who believe they have developed breast cancer from drinking tainted water at the Camp Lejeune base. In the name of science, she also volunteered for experiments, "detox[ed]" from processed foods and personal-care products and sent her breast milk to a lab to test for flame-retardants. The author peppers these encounters with accessible information on how breasts evolved, how they develop and, tragically, how they can go wrong. While Williams excels at making complex science understandable to an educated lay audience, some of her conjectures come across as hyperbole, as she decries "modern times" in which we are "marinating in hormones and toxins" without considering some of the ways in which chemistry has led to better living. Her conviction that childbearing and lactating protect women from breast cancer may alienate women who either can't or don't wish to have children. One senses that she is proud of herself for refusing even an Advil after giving birth and for eating organic food and climbing mountains, but this slightly smug tone detracts from the otherwise valuable evidence she presents. Lively and thought provoking, albeit tainted by self-righteousness.
The New York Times Book Review
Breasts is less a primer on anatomy than a catalog of environmental devastation akin to Rachel Carson's 1962 classic Silent Spring, which detailed the impact of industrial chemicals…on animal life. But Williams, who cites Carson as an inspiration, has written a far scarier book. Carson examined birds and fish. Williams looks at us…Where lesser writers might gag or flee, Williams homes in, leavening her bleak overall message with macabre asides.
—M. G. Lord
Discover
“A smart, wry synthesis of evolution, physiology, microbiology, environmental science, and even biomechanics.”— Carl Zimmer
New York Times Book Review
“Akin to Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic Silent Spring.”— M. G. Lord
Wall Street Journal
“Exceptional.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Williams has done us all—men and women—an enormous favor.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
“With a scientist’s mind, a journalist’s eye, and a mother’s heart, Williams has produced a wide-ranging environmental history of the breast…Williams delineates one of the most consequential dramas at the intersection of human evolution and environmental change.”
Elle
“Highly informative and remarkably entertaining. . . . [Williams’s] inquisitive tone deftly melds careful reportage and a witty streak of lay skepticism.”
Boston Globe
“Much like [Mary Roach’s] Stiff, Breasts benefits from its author's field trips…Seen this way—the breast as a canary in a toxic coal mine—[Williams's] call to protect them feels both timely and urgent.”
Carl Zimmer - Discover
“A smart, wry synthesis of evolution, physiology, microbiology, environmental science, and even biomechanics.”
M. G. Lord - New York Times Book Review
“Akin to Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic Silent Spring.”
Susan Love
“A wonderful and entertaining tour through the evolution, biology and cultural aspects of the organ that defines us as mammals!”
From the Publisher
"[A] remarkably informative and compellingwork of discovery." —Booklist Starred Review
New York Times Book Review - M.G. Lord
“Akin to Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic Silent Spring.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393063189
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
05/07/2012
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
874,826
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

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From the Publisher
"[A] remarkably informative and compellingwork of discovery." —-Booklist Starred Review
Mary Roach
Florence Williams's double-D talents as a reporter and writer lift this book high above the genre and separate it from the ranks of ordinary science writing. Breasts is illuminating, surprising, clever, important. Williams is an author to savor and look forward to.

Meet the Author

Florence Williams is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, and her articles and essays have been widely anthologized. Breasts was named a finalist for the 2011 Columbia/Nieman Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. Williams lives in Boulder,Colorado.

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Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
gfrenchy More than 1 year ago
What a fascinating study of our breasts! Florence Williams asks questions I would not think of asking, but I am keenly interested in the answers. I was so enthralled with this book that I missed subway stops and used even the short ride in the elevator as an opportunity to catch a paragraph or two. This book does have a decidedly biological bend, but that is key to understanding (or at least starting to understand) how these fabulous organs work. As a nursing mother, this book both scared me (breasts share environmental toxins with our babies) and inspired me (breasts also share a complex biological ecosystem with those babies). I recommend this book to everyone who is interested not only in the sociological or cultural aspect of breasts (although there is some of that), but in how these beauties work and impact our lives from nursing babies to implants to breast cancer.
feather_lashes 10 months ago
Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History is a nonfiction, science book researched and written by science reporter Florence Williams. The information presented in this book was not only incredibly informative, but it altered my perspective on breast health in general. Ms. Williams discusses the breast in scientific detail, from an evolution perspective as to why the breast starting developing in the first place to how our modern life (water/air pollution, toxic chemicals, oral contraception, etc.) is negatively affecting its health. She used herself as a lab rat during her research for this book and exposed herself to common American conveniences, along with everyday chemicals/materials and then collected data via blood/urine/breast milk testing. The results she provided were shocking...and frightening! We're talking about chemicals present in rocket fuel!!! Nonfiction/Science books should have their own horror genre. Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History has all the elements of a true horror, and I can't say I finished the book with much hope. However, books like this give important information, and knowledge is power... Power to support research in any way we can, along with empowering every woman (and man) to advocate for "early detection" screenings as a way to manage her/his individual breast health. Every culture and gender would likely benefit from educating themselves on the damaging affects of the modern world, whether it's from reading this book or another. My favorite quote: “Much about our environment is better than ever. We have fewer parasites and infectious disease. Most of us are protected from extreme weather and food shortages. On the whole, people in developed countries are smoking less and living longer than ever before. But when girls reach puberty earlier, their young lives face new and difficult challenges. Toxins in breast milk run the risk of affecting the cognitive, behavioral, and physical health of our children, and breast cancer will on average shave thirteen years off a woman's life. We now understand health to be more than a measure of longevity. Our goal should be the live the best lives we can.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We can go in my bedroom
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kissee her fiercely squeezing her breasts then sucked her neck
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best nonfiction book I have read in a while. It's very heavy on the technical info but has just enough anecdotes and genuinely interesting information to keep you hooked!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Important info for all women to read! The book is a little all over the place, but the research is undeniably current and fascinating. I am buying seveal copies for my girlfriends. I will never think of my "breasts" in the same way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a must-read for every woman on the planet and for most men too. It's written in easy to comprehend language which is like a cold slap in the face couched with a soft caress. It's important for any woman who is considering becoming a mother, ever. It's important for women who have already become mothers. It's important for any woman who will ever reach menopause. It's not just about what we put in our bodies and where it eventually turns up - but what we breathe, what we sit on, what we wear - essentially all aspects of our lives. Florence Williams tells this story with humor yet with urgency. She has done massive research for our benefit and I think it's amazing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although I chose to read this book as a joke, the idea of learning about an organ I know little about seemed interesting. The book started with fascinating facts about the evolution of breasts and possible explanations as to why they evolved. Unfortunately, the remainder of the book went into excrutiatingly scientific detail about all the latent toxins breasts absorb. I was disappointed to find that most of this book turned out to be about how pervasive harmful chemicals are in our lives. I was hoping for more about the history of breasts, cultural differences regarding how society regards them, or what they say about us as one of the only species to treat them functionally and astheticly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the book interesting at first, with many details about the breast and history of it. But as I kept reading I found it too depressing and worrisome to finish.