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A Natural and Unnatural History

Florence Williams (Author)


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.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • May 2013
  • ISBN 978-0-393-34507-0
  • 5.5 × 8.3 in / 352 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide, excluding Australia and New Zealand.


Endorsements & Reviews

“A smart, wry synthesis of evolution, physiology, microbiology, environmental science, and even biomechanics.” — Carl Zimmer, Discover

“Akin to Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic Silent Spring.” — M. G. Lord, New York Times Book Review

“Exceptional.” — Wall Street Journal

“Starred Review. 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's remarkably informative and compelling work of discovery.” — Booklist

“Williams has done us all—men and women—an enormous favor.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“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.” — Los Angeles Review of Books

“Highly informative and remarkably entertaining. . . . [Williams’s] inquisitive tone deftly melds careful reportage and a witty streak of lay skepticism.” — Elle

“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.” — Boston Globe

“A wonderful and entertaining tour through the evolution, biology and cultural aspects of the organ that defines us as mammals!” — Susan Love, M.D., M.B.A., President of Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation

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