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"Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History" by Florence Williams

A self-published book talking about the history of the Electoral College.

Okay people, I get it: You can stop laughing now. It seems like having to read and review a book over something a guy like me should already know makes for great giggles. Keep laughing because there's a myriad of things the average person doesn't know about breasts, other than them being a symbol of eroticism (while I somewhat agree, it's not the case anymore).

Author Williams, in the first few chapters, states exactly what the reader's mind is going through: That there's so much about breasts "yet we can't take them seriously." (I'm a dude in my 20s, as of this writing, and so it doesn't hurt being serious for a moment.) Anyway, the first chapters explain the history of breasts and why they're there. Williams goes back to the birth of primates and the evolutionary cycle in which us humans have underwent and grew from. She also goes and covers the anatomy of the breasts and its chemical functions, right into the ducts of the nipples. Briefly, she then covers the pop culture's reactions and treatment of breasts, as she went over an experiment involving a male being calculated on what parts of a woman's body he looks at first and more frequently. Yes, Williams covers what makes breasts a huge turn-on for men though she thankfully admits her husband is a legs man. (While I do agree that breasts are a fascination, I find I'm more of a thighs guy. I just have a thing for women's clean, shiny thighs...and her feet.)

As the reader learns through the history of breasts, Williams takes the reader from place to place asking and interviewing countless scientists, chemists, biologists, toxicologists (spoken to a little later in the book) and breast cancer survivors. Seemingly enough, breasts are the biggest mystery in the sciences today. Williams went on to mention some labs, built to research about breasts, are run by a father-son team. (Whoa.) Nevertheless, as the book progresses, it reads like a PBS documentary which I liked a lot. However, it's not all interviews and researches, as Williams herself went on to pursue some experiments—one which included her daughter.

About the halfway into the book, author Williams talks about the history of breast implants, the unhealthy diets and chemical exposures the breasts takes in, the growth of breasts during puberty and the authority's compromise in spraying DDT, which wrecked all sorts of havoc among the cities and neighborhoods and the women living there. This put many women under cancerous situations/threats later in life. As for implants, it's no surprise that they're all the rave, especially among superstars and actresses in the media. With that said, I found this utterly surprising (being that I never knew about it in the past):

"A Houston neurologist, who was openly critical of implants, told me he once saw a patient who had been shot. She was a showgirl, and her implants were so hard that the bullet bounced off and saved her life. 'They were like doorbells,' he said of her breasts." (Williams, ed 2012, p.74)

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Williams then goes over as to why, especially here in the US, are there higher risks for breast cancer among women compared to countries in Europe and Asia. It could be our American diet and/or our obsessive connection with technology. She states, though, that women who suffer(ed) from breast cancer are likely to pass the risk onto their children and on. Williams speaks about her family having this risk and blood cancer, then mentioning the paradox of pregnancy if that had something to do with her sweet mother having been able to live longer as she stated she gave birth—Williams' brother—at 18. Having interviewed various scientists about this likely possibility, there's a bunch of contradictions about this hypothesis, but it makes one think: would getting pregnant early really lower your risk?

Past the middle chapters lie Williams' discussion about the breast milk itself (surprisingly mentioning JWoWW from MTV's Jersey Shore selling breast milk online, being more expensive than gasoline), the pill, and the gut—their roles and connections with the breasts. She goes over as to why breast feeding is quintessential and practical compared to providing formula to the baby. Williams says there's a bunch of health benefits and lower risks of health defects as the baby grows and matures with breast feeding. The chapter about the periods and the pill made me feel like I was back in high school—having inadvertently eavesdropped on girls' conversations about tampons, PMS and birth control pills (and I attended a private Catholic high school—seriously). I think all that speaks for itself but it was good to know.

The last chapters talk about the Marines' role in decrypting the breast cancer code, the breasts as they age and dense up and its future. Men's likelihood in getting hit with breast cancer is discussed on chapter 12. Being a guy myself, this caught my eye, even though the odds of a man getting breast cancer are much lower than a woman's odds (it still doesn't mean we men can just sit pretty since the odds are there). Williams talks about Camp Lejeune, where many marine men found out that the fountain water was infected with hazardous, body-hating chemicals that put them at high risk for cancer. Some found that the cancer spread throughout various parts of their body (metastatic). Reading this chapter was rather emotional since Williams states many of those men dislike talking about it (I wouldn't either).

"It beat the crap out of me. There's no cure this time. You go into all these pink buildings and places for your mammograms and appointments. You're this dude and all these women are looking at you. I meet these women, and they're so much more open and honest and easy to talk to about emotions. Guys, all we talk about are football, eating, farting, and girls. So [these women] really helped. I felt a burden lifted. I wanted to move forward. My goal now is to raise awareness." (Devereaux quoted by Williams, ed 2012, p.252)

"I can't say why I got this damned disease. I lived a hard drinking, fun life. I worked the steel mills in Buffalo. I lived in Camp Lejeune. I don't know where it came from. I can't all of a sudden blame the Marine Corps. I don't know and my doctors don't know.

I'm not what I was. I was a Mad Man. I was a user of women. I'm not even telling you how many times I was married. I'm not a swinger anymore, not a user. I appreciate women now, and they're so much stronger than men. I went to support groups, I listened to them. I've had the privilege of entering a woman's world." (Smith quoted by Williams, ed 2012, p.253)

My heart felt heavy for these men; I can feel their pain. Suddenly, and every man is guilty of this, all the derogatory remarks, and the misogynic rhetoric thrown at women isn't so funny after all, given the serious, bodily calamities a man's body undergoes when compared to women. Live and learn, certainly.

Last chapters deal with Williams' take on breast self-examination (BSE), and where breasts will stand in the future. After a chockfull of information, the history, the body's connection and the risks associated with breasts, it's about time the breasts take a stand and hope the scientists quickly find their solutions in solving the quirks, the dangerous cause of breast cancer (other than heavy exposures to radiation) and the mysteries of breasts themselves. She mentions on the last chapter that she hiked up a hill holding a sign that her uphill hike was for her family and her dear sweet mother and grandmothers.

Even though it seems I may be one of the few men to ever read this, since the book felt like it was targeted for women, I thoroughly enjoyed everything in this book. Williams' knowledge and sense of humor made this such a delight to read. The information and numbers could've been a little less, since there were a lot to crunch, and the book could have included an index, but other than that I enjoyed what I read and what I learned.

I'm not sure if it was by Fate or what, but I decidedly wanted to pick this book up after hanging around a bookstore one afternoon. Because I often browse the astronomy/physics/math section, it stands right next to the biology books. While doing a brief read on a book I was thinking of buying, a couple, married or boyfriend-girlfriend—I'm not sure, walked past me when the girl imminently pointed at a book and both her and her man began laughing. Her man picked up the book and said, "Does there actually have to be a book about it?" then placed the book back and both walked away. Apparently, this was the book they were laughing at. I didn't see what was so funny, as I picked it up and was fascinated with what I read than was dumbed-out.

Anyway, no one, and absolutely no one, in my family history has suffered from any kind of breast cancer and/or whatnot (knock on wood). However, I want to support the awareness and help, out of pure unselfishness and my own heart. I happen to own two wristbands raising awareness, and I would like to participate in helping save the breasts.
'I LOVE BOOBIES!' wristbands.
Gentlemen, if you're reading this, yes it's good to be chivalrous opening the door for her and everything. However, save chivalry by taking care of her breasts, and she'll love you eternally. (Or at least I think; I just thought it'd be another great reason to make a girl happy.)

Everything, from the history, the biological processes, the risks, the fragility and the fact that women are fragile as seen by their genes. To add to this, I respect women so much more than I did a month ago prior to reading this; They truly deserve it. (Not that I was a jerk or anything, but I strongly admire the strengths of women after this excellent book. It certainly pays to go all out to make her happy and take great care of her, and this is a perfect reason to do so: save her from the risks affecting her health.)

This book will not only provide you with a bunch of things you probably didn't know about breasts, but it'll change the way you perceive women. Those marine men certainly had a change of heart, as did I (again, I was no jerk or anything). If you're a girl/woman, this is a must read. You may want to reconsider your diet and your work(s) and progress through life with a grain of salt come reading this. It'll help out a lot.

Overall, this book is strongly recommended. You won't be disappointed. Thanks to this book, I look to participate and help raise awareness for breast cancer.

This marks as the first book in hardcover format to be read and reviewed here on The Seeds of Books website.





  • Excellent, conversation-style writing about our "twin peaks."
  • Provides great advice in having healthy breast growth.
  • Talks about her take on plastic surgery, the history and other amusing anecdotes.
  • Includes an interview with a man who is a breast cancer victim.
  • After reading this book, you then honor but respect the boobs.
  • None.
100% (A+)
Fan Rating
Title Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History
Author(s) Florence Williams
Description 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, arrived 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 come from, where they have ended up, and what we can do to save them.
Dedication "In memory of my grandmothers, Florence Higinbotham Williams and Carolyn Loeb Boasberg, and my mother, Elizabeth Friar Williams."
ISBN 978-0-393-06318-9
Book Dimensions Width: 5.87″ (5 7/8″)
Height: 8.56″ (8 9/16″)
Depth: 1.13″ (1 1/8″)
Page Count 356
Contents Introduction, fourteen (14) chapters, Acknowledgements, Notes, Permission Credits
Book Design Judith Stagnitto Abbate / Abbate Design
Jacket Design / Photographs David J. High (highdzn.com)
(Front): LatitudeStock, Gallo Images, Getty Images | (Back): James Steidl, SuperFusion, SuperStock
Author Photograph Paolo Marchesi
Manufacturing by RR Donnelly, Harrisonburg, VA
Production Manager Anna Oler
Published May 7, 2012
Publisher W.W. Norton & Company (www.wwnorton.com)
Copyright © 2012 by Florence Williams
Printed in United States of America First Edition
Book Format Hardcover, Kindle, MP3, Audible
Quoted Reviews "As a mammalogist and a nursing mother, I thought I knew everything there was to know about breasts and their exquisite communion with the ecological world. I was wrong. But I never laughed so hard while learning so much. The true story of breasts, revealed at last!" — Sandra Steingraber, PhD, author of Living Downstream

"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, author of Stiff and Packing for Mars

"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, MD, author of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book
Best Seller's List --
Other Florence Williams is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, and her articles and essays have been widely anthologized. Breasts was named a finalist for the 2011 Columbia/Neiman Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. Williams lives in Boulder, Colorado.
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