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A Natural and Unnatural History

Florence Williams (Author)


A 2012 New York Times Notable Book
A 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Award Winner in the Science & Technology category

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

  • Hardcover
  • May 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-393-06318-9
  • 5.9 × 8.6 in / 352 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide, excluding Australia and New Zealand.

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  1. Book CoverBreasts: A Natural and Unnatural History



Endorsements & Reviews

“Florence Williams's double-D talents as a reporter and writer lift this book high above the genre and separate it from the ranks of ordinary science writing. Breasts is illuminating, surprising, clever, important. Williams is an author to savor and look forward to.” — Mary Roach

“Be brave, buy this book, and withstand the giggles and sniggers of your friends. For here is a wonderful history, stretching across hundreds of millions of years, of an astonishingly complex part of the human body. Williams weaves together research on nutrition, cancer, psychology, and even structural engineering to create a fascinating portrait of the breast: that singular gland that gave us, as mammals, our very name.” — Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex and Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea

“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

“In her comprehensive 'environmental history' of the only human body part without its own medical specialty,…Williams focuses on the importance of understanding breasts as more than sex objects…Williams puts hard data and personal history together with humor, creating an evenhanded cautionary tale that will both amuse and appall.” — Publishers Weekly

“Starred Review. ...exceptional history... with smarts, sass, and intent.... 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.” — Booklist