Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

4.3 11
by Florence Williams
     
 

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A 2012 New York Times Notable Book
A 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Award Winner in the Science & Technology category

An engaging narrative about an incredible, life-giving organ and its imperiled modern fate.

Did you know that breast milk contains substances similar to cannabis? Or that it’s sold on the Internet for 262

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Overview

A 2012 New York Times Notable Book
A 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Award Winner in the Science & Technology category

An engaging narrative about an incredible, life-giving organ and its imperiled modern fate.

Did you know that breast milk contains substances similar to cannabis? Or that it’s sold on the Internet for 262 times the price of oil? 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?

In this informative and highly entertaining account, intrepid science reporter Florence Williams sets out to uncover the latest scientific findings from the fields of anthropology, biology, and medicine. Her investigation follows the life cycle of the breast from puberty to pregnancy to menopause, taking her from a plastic surgeon’s office where she learns about the importance of cup size in Texas to the laboratory where she discovers the presence of environmental toxins in her own breast milk. The result is a fascinating exploration of where breasts came from, where they have ended up, and what we can do to save them.

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Editorial Reviews

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
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)
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.”
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.”
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!”
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.”
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.”
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393083866
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
04/30/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
1,144,212
File size:
4 MB

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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.

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