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Toxic Truth: A Scientist, a Doctor, and the Battle over Lead Hardcover – March 1, 2009


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Toxic Truth: A Scientist, a Doctor, and the Battle over Lead + Environmental Health: From Global to Local
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807000329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807000328
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #887,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Before most Americans had given a thought to lead poisoning, a geochemist named Clair Patterson and a passionate doctor, Herb Needleman, were learning just how widespread it was, and how damaging. Their work set the framework for the future examination of man-made toxins, and their scientific and political struggles for the truth set a pattern for future battles between industry and advocates over the significance of toxics. With plenty of gritty details, Lydia Denworth tells the story of these two giant lead-killers, shedding light on the foundations of a key issue in public policy.—Arthur Allen, author of Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver

"Toxic Truth is a compelling and forceful portrayal of the lives and pain of these two remarkable scientific pioneers. An impressively researched and well-documented book, it is an astonishing chronicle of one of the most insidious and avoidable health problems of our time." —Dr. Devra Davis, author of When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle against Pollution

"In Toxic Truth, Lydia Denworth has pulled off a rare feat: she's written a true page-turner, animated by a fascinating medical mystery, that's also a nuanced and immensely thoughtful look at how good ideas can overthrow orthodoxy—and ultimately make the world a better place."—Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

"The 'unearthing' of the problem of children's injury from environmental lead, by intrepid researchers such as Needleman and Patterson, makes for an intriguing chronicle. The pitfalls and challenges they encountered at every step, their persistence in the face of extraordinary attacks, are instructive for others who pursue the truth with the courage of their convictions."—Dr. Alan Woolf, Director, Pediatric Environmental Health Center at Children's Hospital, Boston, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

"Toxic Truth is an engrossing and inspiring story of how two courageous men shone the clear light of science on industry's effort to conceal the harm to our children—and to all of us—by lead in the environment."—Philip and Alice Shabecoff, authors of Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children

About the Author

Lydia Denworth is a former Newsweek reporter and People bureau chief. Her writing on science, education, and other social issues has appeared in the New York Times, Redbook, Health, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and three sons.

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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It should be in every high school: look!
Claude Lambert
She did research the story in exquisite detail and writes with straightforward and elegant prose.
Samuel W. Needleman
Her lead characters, Patterson and Needleman, were human and flawed.
David J. Wilson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By E. Schwarz on March 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Fascinating and incredibly well written, interesting both for the story it tells about lead and also as a template for the many battles that are waged between between what is best for our children and ourselves and what happens when they are at odds with political and economic agendas. It is also inspiring in tracing how individuals who set their minds to it can make a huge difference in the world we live in.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S. Fitzpatrick on March 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Toxic Truth continues in the fine tradition of other important and groundbreaking "public health mysteries" as Johnson's "Ghost Map", Barry's "The Great Influenza" and Shilts's "And the Band Played On" to tell the tragic story of lead poisoning in America. While the two heroes of Toxic Truth emerge in the persons of geochemist Clair Patterson and pediatrician Herbert Needleman, the third hero of the story is clearly science itself. Throughout the book, and especially at times when both Patterson's and Needleman's quarrelsome personalities become problematic, it is good science that asserts itself and ultimately wins the day.

The author's background as a journalist is much appreciated by the reader in her ability to provide balanced portraits, not just of her heroes, but also of those scientists who often went toe-to-toe with Patterson and Needleman. Lesser books in this genre are often so lopsided in how they fawn over their chosen luminary and dismissive of their chosen villain that one is left to wonder whether the writer is playing straight with the facts. Fortunately, there is no such concern with Toxic Truth. The book's central thesis is greatly strengthened by the fair treatment of its many subjects not weakened.

For readers curious about the nexus of science, government, public health, and monied-interests, Toxic Truth is the best new book on the market and is much recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Samuel W. Needleman on February 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is, in large part, about my father who first established in 1976 that subclinical lead exposure was harmful in amounts previously felt to be safe. the work led the EPA to restrict lead usage, and this has been linked by some to the decline in urban violence seen since the 80s and 90s. I admit therefore, that this may not be an impartial review.

His work was discredited, initially by two women whose careers were financially supported by the industry that stood to suffer negative impact from his work's fruition. Nonetheless, he fought on, and the data were reviewed by at least THREE outside panels and found to be reproducible. He was completely exonerated, and the rest is history.

Denworth has done a very fine job summarizing the scientific, political, economic and personal issues that were involved in this tail for my father and another investigator. She did research the story in exquisite detail and writes with straightforward and elegant prose.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kelly on February 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fantastic book - written by a journalist in easily understood language with enough "scienctific speak" to make the story credible. An important historical analysis that sheds light on the way industry uses its tremendous influence against the public good - even when all signs are pointing to harm. I highly recommend this book, not only for environmental health activists, but any parent who wishes a better life for their child.Toxic Truth: A Scientist, a Doctor, and the Battle over Lead
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Burt Olhiser on January 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been doing consulting on lead-based paint issues and EPA's abatement training since the early 90's. As one who has been involved in this but not on the front lines as Dr. Needleman and Patterson were, but aware to some degree of them both and these struggles, this book filled in my knowledge gaps wonderfully. Doing so as well in a way that is imminently readable. I felt very often as if I was there to witness the emergence of awarenesses of just what the cost's of lead being dispersed so widely into our environment were. I could not recommend this book any higher to anyone interested in this subject no matter what perspective you might approach it from.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Claude Lambert on October 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a good book about two heroes: the man who succeeded in getting the US to ban lead in gasoline, and the man who showed that lead contamination was dangerous for children. In a perfect world, both men: Patterson and Needleman, should have had the Nobel prize. In the 70s and 80s the cultural mood for it was not there.
I used to work in a laboratory in Paris where most of the scientists quoted in the book came to give talks. Needleman had come up with the idea of measuring lead not in blood, because blood is renewed too fast in the body, but in baby teeth. In baby teeth, the whole history of lead contamination is integrated. Then, you have a point of comparison to measure, for instance the relation between lead and intellectual deficiencies. Needleman was so good that I remember everything he said, and this was 30 years ago. He had a program with a reward for kids who brought him their baby teeth and a lot of trouble with kids bringing him dog teeth and grandma's dentures! The correlations he found between lead and loss of IQ got us to ask a lot of questions: it is pretty hard to justify that you see the effect of lead when so many factors (race,heredity, fortune, education) are expected to play a role. But he had thought of everything and I got to say that he was not only very good, he was also very cool. We were impressed.
Patterson was totally dedicated to educate everybody about lead. I remember him in a chic restaurant in Paris refusing a bottle of wine capped with tin (as all bottles were in the 70s) and giving a 20 minutes lecture to the server: I had to translate, it was just as funny as it was embarrassing.
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