Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A short review of "Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History", by Florence Williams

Last night I finished reading a fascinating -- and ofttimes frightening -- book titled "Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History", written by science journalist Florence Williams.

It's fascinating because it goes into great detail about a feature of human anatomy which I confess I had previously had only a mostly surface appreciation of. One of the most salient points the author makes is that, contrary to what one might think, even after all these years breasts are still in large part a mystery... and she makes a good case that far more research into them is warranted.

It's frightening because much of the book is about how many artificial substances find their way into breasts, and -- in the case of women -- breast milk, which then often finds its way into children. Many of these substances are outright toxic, and may have serious deleterious effects upon the health of mother and child.

"Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History" is a very good book, and I recommend it to anyone with breasts... which is, I guess, just about everyone. -- PL

P.S. I have to mention one small error in the book, which seems to have slipped through the writing/editing process somehow without being corrected. It's the following line found on page 189, a line which compares the relative prices of breast milk and oil:

"At four dollars per ounce, it costs 262 times the price of a barrel of oil."

I am pretty sure what the author intended to say here is that breast milk, per ounce, is 262 times the price of oil, per ounce. But that's not what this sentence says. In fact, the more one tries to parse it, the more one realizes that -- as written -- it makes no sense at all.
A simple fix could be as follows:

"At four dollars per ounce, one ounce of breast milk costs 262 times the price of an ounce of oil."

Or, if more dramatic numbers are desired:

"If oil cost the same as breast milk (four dollars per ounce), a barrel of oil (which contains 5,376 liquid ounces) would cost $21,504."

I'm sure there are other ways of saying it, but I thought it would be useful to give examples.

This is a minor glitch in an otherwise excellent book, but it definitely caught my eye as I was reading it. I suspect it probably had the same effect on some other readers.


Shell Presto said...

I just wanted to say that I enjoy reading your non-turtle blog, which I probably don't say enough. You don't get the same amount of comments as you used to, but I find your observations insightful even if I don't always agree with them.

I especially like the little things that I wouldn't have heard about or seen otherwise: reviews of books like this and the photos you post. I also like to hear what you think of movies.

Anonymous said...

I'm not the smartest cat in the cabbage patch, and that goes double for my math brain but doesn't this math work out like this?:

Oil is $96(ish) per barrel.
Each barrel holds 5376 ounces.
meaning 1 ounce = $0.017

Breast milk is = $4 an ounce
meaning a barrel full is = $21504.00

if we divide the milk price by the oil price, we get 224. 224 times more expensive than 96$ per barrel of oil.

I think the book is accurate, yeah? I'm using todays oil prices so I don't expect the exact number from the book, but this seems right… I think.