Reviews for Breasts : A Natural and Unnatural History

Book News Reviews
Williams (contributing editor, Outside magazine) writes that she didn't think much about breasts until she became a mother. Treating breasts as an ecosystem, she blends personal experience, cultural analysis, psychology, and science in discussing societal hangups and health aspects of breast-feeding and breast cancer (in men as well as women). Includes illustrations and endnotes. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Booklist Reviews 2012 April #1
*Starred Review* In her exceptional history, science journalist Williams does more to enlighten us on the virtues of, workings of, and perils to women's breasts than anyone ever has before, notwithstanding the efforts of the three H's: Hooters, Hefner, and Hughes (Howard, inventor of the cantilever bra). And she does it with smarts, sass, and intent. Her book can be characterized as an exposé because it unveils the scandalously scanty amount of research devoted to those that define the very essence of the human race. To be sure, Williams covers all the cultural and anthropological information that the mostly male scientific--and not-so-scientific--community has gathered about what is euphemistically referred to as second base. And she goes much further, elucidating the primary purpose of the female breast and how breasts alter at each stage of a woman's life, then venturing into breast enlargements, the chemistry of breast milk, how breasts are evolving, and how little we know about the effects of environmental toxins and the rise in breast cancer. 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. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2013 January
A book about breasts is subject to being trivialized or dismissed as superficial, but Williams, an editor and science reporter, has investigated breasts through the lenses of anthropology, biology, and history, and produced an eloquent, thought-provoking work. Williams's own breasts and her personal health and reproductive histories provide a framework for examining topics such as the complex anatomy and physiology of breasts, lactation, and breast cancer. Most compelling, though, is Williams's review of the scientific evidence for the presence of environmental influences such as bisphenol A, DDT, and polychlorinated biphenyls in breast milk, thus supporting her contention that "breasts are bellwethers for the changing health of people." Biologists, environmentalists, or ecologists likely would agree with Williams's central thesis--that human biological systems are affected by the modern environment--even though many scientists might reject the notion that a single body part, breasts, can convey all-encompassing information about individual health. The author's lively, entertaining writing style renders complex concepts such as genetic risk factors, chemical compounds, and breast imaging understandable and accessible to all readers. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through graduate students; general readers. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students. P. Lefler Bluegrass Community & Technical College Copyright 2012 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 March #1
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. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 March #1

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)

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