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Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by…

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

by Florence Williams

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2211177,452 (3.74)3

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Crunchy, crunchy, crunchy book. I could pour some milk on it and eat it for breakfast, it was that crunchy. The author, Florence Williams, is a self proclaimed "granola girl," and the back flap says she is a contributing editor of Outside magazine, so fair enough, I guess, but damn she had me fooled with the subtitle "a natural and unnatural history." It should have been "Breasts: if you think they evolved as a sexual display you are fooled by patriarchy, and chemicals give you breast cancer and "They" don't care, chemicals get into your breast milk and... are you breast feeding? you should be breastfeeding even if you had "breast fever" three times like I did because breast feeding is the best, and did I mention chemicals are bad yet, and if you get breast implants you are... Texan!" gasp hiss

It gets kinda tiring. It was pretty relentless. You can tell she tried to hold back a little, like "Okay, I'm not writing for Outside right now gotta temper it a bit" but it still popped through in really weird places. Like, going to the farmers market in Colorado and talking about how she had to ask the sellers if the food ever touched plastic and haha they didn't look at her too weird isn't Colorado awesome... the cafeteria lady doesn't serve chicken nuggets and hamburgers only once a month she worships her (I felt like I was missing part of the story here, were they trucked in directly from McDonalds or were they just ground beef/chicken, and if that is a problem please tell me instead of it being some hippie dog whistle. she doesn't directly tell you anything about that)... and she mentions how she refused even an OTC pain pill after giving birth, so uh... congratulations on that? what?

Granted stuff like that is not much of the book, and most of it was well-researched and easy to read. But the... "memoirishness" of this sort of journalism doesn't work for me. It's like, I'm sorry, but I didn't read this book to spend time with you. I don't even like you. Can we go back to what the book was about, please.

But I admit though I am agrumentative towards books. It's like before I read them I tell 'em, "well, let's see just what the hell you think you are, then," with arms crossed and eyelids lowered. well.

Interesting slate article on why it's not the best idea to think human evolution is just like, guys choosing to have sex with the hottest chicks. ( )
  Joanna.Oyzon | Apr 17, 2018 |
The research is obviously there, but this took me so long to finish. I can understand what an undertaking it is to have all this data and try to present it in a layman-consumable way. One usual method to get reader interest and sympathy, and the one I saw used here, is for the author to intersperse the scientific reportage with personal anecdotes, to show how these topics are intimately relevant, in effect the author representing the Everywoman. She has taken it upon herself to use her journalistic savvy find some answers, and share them with her kinswomen. Unfortunately, the answers are confusing, contradictory and leave one feeling panicked and hopeless. It's a cancer roulette. You can try to weed out all the plastics, flame retardants, etc. in your life, but with our world the way it is, it's like fighting a losing battle. But she shares our feelings. Like the author, we can only hope for the speedy advancement of breast research, and-- probably the only solid takeaway I could find-- learn how to properly give yourself a breast exam. The only other thing we normal citizens can do is promote awareness, and at the very least this is what the book accomplishes. If you want an entertaining non-fiction read, go for Bryson or Roach. If you want the sad facts that make you feel like covering your defenseless, disease-susceptible breasts protectively ("Dear My Boobs: You poor things. I love you girls. Thanks for being here for me despite all the dangers.") here they are. ( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
EVERYTHING and then some (YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWN) you've ever wanted and not wanted to know about female human mammary glands. "An engaging narrative about an incredible, life-giving organ and it's imperiled modern fate"

The book is cataloged 612.664, right in there w/ medical information...... and personally, I couldn't quite figure out what what was so "engaging" about this book.

I didn't know you could have your breast milk tested in Germany for fire-retardants & other chemicals and that American women test 10-100 times higher than European women. Also did you know, that breast milk contains a cannabis like substance in it? I didn't either.

I had never heard (and hope to never again hear) breasts called: "Dingle Bobbers" (which I was sure was a term for male anatomy), Jellybonkers, or Chumbawumbas (Come on, Really?).

But if you want the scoop on the health hazards that make breasts endangered, then by all means read this book. ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jan 18, 2016 |
Informative and eye-opening. ( )
  jimocracy | Apr 18, 2015 |
An absorbing and frightening book that delves into such breast-related subjects as evolution, development, implants, cancer, breastfeeding, and the contents of breast milk (startling). It was engaging and full of facts*, and makes an excellent case for regulating the thousands of chemicals that are introduced into the American market with no safety testing at all.

*I especially liked the bit about how once our babies couldn't cling to our fur anymore, our arms were the best place to hold them, and the breast is conveniently placed just there for easy access to nutrition/immune system boosting.


In countless ways, modernity has been good for women, but it hasn't always been good for our breasts....The wealthiest industrialized countries have the highest rates of breast cancer in the world. (10)

There's nothing like America's consumer culture to convince us that what we have isn't quite good enough. We didn't used to be this way. Americans have traditionally be tough-skinned and self-reliant. At the same time, of course, we've been great reinventors of the self. (from ch. 4, "Fill Her Up," on breast augmentation, p. 61-62)

Big, fake breasts have so thoroughly saturated mainstream entertainment and media that they've created a new standard by which boys judge girls and girls judge themselves. (82)

"The developing fetus is exquisitely sensitive to environmental factors. There are critical windows, sometimes just one or two days long, in which a tiny dose of chemical can send the wrong message to cells, and other days when the window has shut and the mouse will develop normally." -experimental biologist Patricia Hunt re: BPA (from ch. 5, "Toxic Assets," p. 95)

Numerous studies have confirmed that BPA activates the estrogen receptors on breast cells and can cause cancer cells to replicate in a dish. (95)

Our breasts...have more varied and more sensitive hormone receptors than other organs....They need to sense the environment to store fat and grow at the optimal time and feed an infant in an uncertain world. What might have been handy once upon a time now looks increasingly like a liability. (97)

lack of government oversight, inadequate/non-existent testing for hormonal effects in safety studies, chemical & pharmaceutical industries' power to sow seeds of scientific doubt and maintain a favorable regulatory landscape (98)

Unlike in Europe, American companies are not required to perform safety studies on chemicals before they introduce them into the marketplace. In fact, they have a strong incentive not to perform them. (98-99)

avoid scented products, parabens, phthalates (138-139)

...the whole prospect of trying to individually safeguard one's family from silent endocrine disruptors feels like a folly, because it can't be done in any meaningful way until the government and chemical companies change the way they test, manufacture, and market these substances. (139)

"It's amazing how few people are interested in this incredible organ. The breast is the only organ without a medical specialty." (Professor Peter Hartmann, 174)

...breasts are often overlooked, at least for non-cancer scientific research. (175)

...lactation likely evolved from the immune system; its primary function was not nutrition but protection. Most of the cells in milk are macrophages, which disable viruses, fungi, and bacteria. (187)

Knowing that I could give my babies all they needed was nothing short of astonishing. Through breast-feeding, I grew more confident in my ability to be a mother....The big contradiction is that breast-feeding is so natural, and yet so completely unintuitive. (194)

As my flame-retardant adventures made clear, there's only so much an informed consumer can do. A better solution would be a regulatory one....Congress needs to update its chemical laws so these substances can be tested for health effects before they come to market. Many scientists and activists and even some regulators advocate taking a precautionary approach to chemicals that exhibit the big trifecta of concern: persistence, toxicity, and easy transportability. (215)

...by the mid-1980s, [epidemiologist Malcolm] Pike was publishing papers showing that women who began taking the pill as teens, before bearing children, doubled their risk of breast cancer before age forty-five. If they took the pill for eight years before becoming pregnant, they nearly tripled their risk....Today's oral contraceptives contain one-fifth the hormone levels of the original. (230)

We're pretty much marinating in hormones and toxins....Our modern environment...is determining our cellular destiny. (235)

To save breasts - and to spare women the particular agonies of [breast cancer] - we need to think more about the bigger picture of health and, ultimately, prevention. Yet surprisingly few research dollars...are spent on prevention. (279)

A better and more successful approach would be a societal one, in which industries have incentives to design safer products and make healthier foods, and governments adopt a commonsense and rigorous approach to testing and regulating chemicals. (280) ( )
  JennyArch | Feb 19, 2015 |
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Introduction:  Funbags.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393063186, Hardcover)

A 2012 New York Times Notable Book

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.

12 illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:44 -0400)

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

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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