We all know what it takes to be healthy—or at least we think we do. The advice comes at us from all directions: Crush your workout! Learn to meditate! Eat vegan!
In her latest investigation, Natural Causes, the sharp-tongued Barbara Ehrenreich, whose bestselling Nickel and Dimed scrutinized the inner workings of the American economy, approaches the proclamations of the health-and-wellness culture with a wary eye. Ehrenreich examines the cellular activity in the human body in order to discover if everything we do to control our health is really worth doing.
Ehrenreich has the science chops to do a serious study—a Ph.D. in cellular immunology comes in handy when exploring the world of macrophages and neutrophils. What she finds is surprising. Our immune cells, it turns out, are not always the good guys defending the body against invaders. Sometimes, they attack or help the attackers (like cancer) spread their influence.
With a scientist’s keen eye, Ehrenreich precisely explains the intricacies of the immune system. She’s equally at home in other disciplines, too, moving seamlessly from biology and philosophy to history and poetry. Her book is richly layered with evidence, stories and quotations from all of these disciplines and sprinkled with barbed humor. Ehrenreich lets nobody off the hook, skewering Silicon Valley meditators and misogynist obstetricians with equal vigor.
It’s impossible to read this book without questioning the popular wisdom about the body and its upkeep. At the very least, you’ll be able to make better decisions about how to work out, whether to have that mammogram and when to just order the steak.