Review: Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural HistoryBreasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was depressing as hell. I added it to my To Read list 5 or so years ago when I heard about it on Fresh Air. Don’t get me wrong, the author has an entertaining style. There were lots of chuckles as I read various witty things she said. It’s just that the core thesis of the book – or at least the thread that seemed to tie everything together – was that the modern world was screwing over everyone with breasts, men included.

And that’s where things got depressing. More or less everything has endocrine disruptor chemicals that come off of it – from car seats to plastics to various medicines. The chemical companies have so much money that regulators in the USA aren’t doing anything. And when they *do* as that a chemical be changed – like the bromine (or some other element) based flame-proofing – the chemical they pick to replace it is just as bad.

Also, there’s the fact that I’ve grown a lot as a reader of non-fiction and I’m a lot more wary of these scientifically proscriptive books. The problem is not that I’m conspiracy-minded or that I don’t want my mind changed. It’s that I’ve seen too much quackery peddled as science that I’m not sure how much this book should freak me out about about my daughters’ and wive’s potential health issues. A lot of animal studies don’t end up to mean much when transferred to humans. On the other hand, we have a long history (lead in paint/gas, medicines given to pregnant women, cigarettes, etc) where we’re told that things are OK and they aren’t.

So I think my frustration comes from a mix of being powerless against rich corporations and not knowing how much of what’s in this book is valid science.

My favorite chapters were about the evolution of breasts (both in terms of animal evolution and culturally/socially) and how a lot of what science believed (believes?) about them have been greatly colored by societal and moral beliefs.

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