Breath Taking: The Power, Fragility, and Future of Our Extraordinary Lungs

Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780802149312. $26. SCI
Stephen (pulmonology, Thomas Jefferson Univ.) draws attention to the lungs: one of our most neglected, yet most vital organs. Even the medical establishment ignores our lungs; lung cancer is responsible for more deaths each year than breast, pancreatic, and colon cancer combined but receives a far smaller proportion of research dollars. Stephen discusses the place of the breath in many religious traditions, the evolution of the lungs and our reliance on oxygen, and the physiology of respiration and gas exchange. He presents the history and course of lung transplantation, and of several pulmonary diseases including neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, asthma, tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis, and disorders caused by smoking, emphasizing that we all share our air. Moving chapters show how the actions of the few—smoking, polluting, refusing to wear masks during COVID-19—affect the many. He also discusses the importance of the breath in mindfulness and meditation, and in the production of speech. Throughout, Stephen emphasizes the role of science in improving humans’ respiratory health.
VERDICT Readers of Siddhartha Mukherjee and Atul Gawande will appreciate Stephen’s writing. Blending science writing and medical reporting, this is a detailed, yet accessible account that will engage anyone concerned with their respiratory health

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