Breasts are arguably one of the most popular features of the human body, yet most of what we hear about the venerable ta-tas exudes playfulness and jest —or expresses great concern due to the high incidence of breast cancer. As the owner of a “set” for many years myself, only after reading Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History did I realize how very little I knew about them and how much there is to know. Florence Williams literally goes on a journey to answer the questions which most of us have never thought to ask and comes away with a landmark book on the subject.
The breast journey begins…
…by addressing the question, “How did the human mammal evolve to have breasts?” She travels to meet with scientists, researchers and anthropologists to seek answers and is introduced to a few research studies which produce interesting, albeit predicable, results: men glance at the female breast more than any other part of her body when exposed to images of women naked…surprise!
The breast has been growing in size through the generations, both naturally and unnaturally. Williams’ journey takes her to the cradle of the ersatz enhancement of breasts, and the office of plastic surgeon and breast implant pioneer, Dr. Ciaravino, in Houston, Texas. Ironically, breast augmentation was developed in a state whose motto cries, “Everything is bigger in Texas!” Here she walks through the consultation of a breast implant patient and admits the experience of it all almost tempted her to walk out with a new pair! After a mock-patient experience, Williams then follows Ciaravino as he meets with prospective and new implant patients. I’ll just say, you learn a lot about the motives for implants and what women are willing to give up for them.
Williams’ breast travels primarily focus on the exploration and understanding of the dangers to the health of this important body part, and the majority of the book deals with the causes, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. She explores the high incidence of this cancer and its many culprits, and the need to understand and prevent this dreaded disease.
In addition to the diseased-breast interrogation, Williams doesn’t fail to spend ample time on the most basic function of the breast: to create and deliver milk. This section of her journey not only reveals how the breast accomplishes such an amazing feat, but also what the milk contains… which is part of that miraculous evolution of nature, providing babies exactly what they need, while showing that this same life-giving liquid also collects and transfers some of the worst pollutants in our environment. This juxtaposition alone creates fascinating depth for exploration, and sparked the catalyst for Williams to write the book; she tested her own breast milk, and discovered the harmful substances she was passing along to her baby.
Full of science and the psychology behind our fascination with them, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History also entertains and informs on many levels. I never knew that there is a goblet said to be molded from the perfect breasts of Helen of Troy, which casts new light on what truly buoyed the army of a thousand ships! At times reading this book it can feel a bit heavy, and not just because it’s about big boobs, but Williams balances the heavy with wit and humor to make it a must-read for all women and those who love them.
This an excellent addition to the Great Books for Women to the LiveTrue Collection!