Books in brief

Journal name:
Date published:
Published online

The Truth in Small Doses: Why We're Losing the War on Cancer — and How to Win It

Clifton Leaf Simon & Schuster (2013)

The US 'war on cancer' begun in 1971 has been an overall failure, argues journalist and cancer survivor Clifton Leaf. Over the past 40 years, he shows, crude deaths of US citizens from cancer have risen by 14%, although those from stroke and other killer diseases have fallen. The developing-world burden is also rising. In his exhaustively researched study probing why, Leaf points to a “cancer culture” in which scientists and medics think small, fail to coordinate results and focus on publishing rather than achieving breakthroughs.

Paralysed with Fear: The Story of Polio

Gareth Williams Palgrave Macmillan (2013)

With the World Health Organization poised to roll out its Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013–2018, the door could finally close on this devastating disease. Medical researcher Gareth Williams negotiates the hairpin bends of polio's history with aplomb. He takes us from its discovery by London medic Michael Underwood in the eighteenth century to Karl Landsteiner's isolation of the virus in 1908, and on through the twentieth century, when polio paralaysed and killed millions, and consigned some to iron lungs or a life in callipers. A detailed, science-rich treatment.

An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions

Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen Allen Lane (2013)

The world's largest democracy and one of its swiftest-growing economies lags behind many nations in immunization, education, medical care, the power sector and other key services. Economists Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze explore why India is “climbing up the ladder of per capita income while slipping down the slope of social indicators”. China, for instance, contributes 2.7% of gross domestic product to public health; India, just 1.2%. A cogent synthesis of the state of a nation where high-tech success sits cheek by jowl with widespread open defecation and gross social inequality.

Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice

Gyorgy Scrinis Columbia University Press (2013)

From diktats on salt to rulings on carbs, nutritional advice can turn supermarket aisles into minefields. Sociologist Gyorgy Scrinis blames “nutritionism”, a reductive ideology that has dominated nutrition science for decades. It is a myth, he argues, that the interplay between nutrients, food and the body is fully understood. Meanwhile, much nutritional science focuses on individual nutrients such as fats, divorced from context such as overall diet. Scrinis calls for an integration of sound science with optimal production and processing, and hands-on cultivation and cooking.

Seaweeds: Edible, Available and Sustainable

Ole Mouritsen University of Chicago Press (2013)

Anyone who has wandered a wrack-strewn beach or munched nori-wrapped sushi knows the singular appeal of seaweeds. Biophysicist Ole Mouritsen trawls their biology and cultural roles as fertilizer, additives, medicine and food. Packed with minerals, proteins, trace elements and fatty acids, these algae are tasty, abundant and easily cultivable, and could feed future billions. Mouritsen even includes recipes: from seaweed pesto and dulse ice cream to kelp broth, a sea garden of delights.

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