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What's Gotten into Us?: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World Hardcover – April 19, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (April 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068037
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068036
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Praise for What's Gotten Into Us?

“The landscape of health has changed.  When you look at the increases in  the rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity, allergies and autism, the statistics are numbing.  But epidemics don’t have genetic causes, they have environmental ones.  And today, as McKay Jenkins details in What’s Gotten Into Us?, some of the greatest threats to our health aren’t found in our DNA, but in our food supply and environment. This book is jam-packed with information and is not only an invaluable resource for those interested in protecting their loved ones, but  a sound investment and a book that will pay health dividends for a lifetime.”
– Robyn O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth and  founder of AllergyKids Foundation

"All of us long for answers on how to navigate our perilous chemical world. You could not find a better guide in exploring such important questions than What's Gotten into Us.  In this wonderfully readable journey of a book,  McKay Jenkins illuminates not only the science of everyday toxic compounds but the best ways to manage them in everyday life. Read it and keep it. You'll be glad you did."
Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine
 in Jazz Age New York

“McKay Jenkins allows the discovery of a tumor in his left hip to lead him – and us – into the world of failed chemical regulations. What's Gotten Into Us? is a story of unflinching courage combined with hardheaded research. It's chock full of suspense… and footnotes, too.  Be warned: the answer to the title's question will almost certainly amaze you – and may just send you to the barricades.”
– Sandra Steingraber, author of Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment

“What's Gotten Into Us delivers a scary punch. The everyday environment of American life is seething with little-understood and sometimes demonstrably dangerous chemical compounds—weird stuff that's crept into all our bodies, whether we know it or not. And we don't know what it does or could do to us. A nice piece of work, a Silent Spring for the human body.”
– Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone

"In this serious exposé that is surprisingly entertaining and positive, Jenkins uncovers the ubiquity and danger of [everyday] chemicals and offers some solutions, both personal and political..." -Publisher's Weekly, starred review

About the Author

McKay Jenkins holds degrees from Amherst College, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Princeton, where he received a Ph.D. in English. He is the author of The Last Ridge, The White Death, and Bloody Falls of the Coppermine. The Cornelius A. Tilghman Professor of English and director of journalism at the University of Delaware, Jenkins lives with his family in Baltimore.

Customer Reviews

Read this book and, armed, let us do better.
Once you do, it will be impossible to keep your head buried in the sand and not acknowledge that our planet and our bodies are under daily assault.
It is easy to read book, it is keeping reader at the bay and for what it has intended to do - it is great book!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"What's Gotten into Us?" is scarier than a Stephen King novel. It is a horror story that is all the more frightening because it is real. The author, who has done extensive research and interviewed quite a few experts, provides an overview of the hazardous substances that Americans eat, drink, breathe, and touch every day. Nursing mothers unwittingly pass toxins on to their babies; toddlers play with toys made from plastics containing dangerous chemicals; we clean our clothes and homes using products whose ingredients we cannot even pronounce; we keep our lawns lush with something called 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (a constituent of Agent Orange); and across America, manufacturers continue to release noxious wastes into our air and water supply.

McKay Jenkins is far from a hysterical tree-hugger. He is a professor and journalist who had a cancer scare and decided that it was time to figure out how to stay healthy in a world filled with man-made poisons. It turns out that this is no easy task. The government agencies whose mission it is to oversee our environment are understaffed and underfunded; chemical companies donate large amounts of money to campaign funds and do everything in their power to defeat legislation that could negatively affect their bottom line; factory owners would rather pay minuscule fines than clean up their messes; and the United States continues to import many goods from the Far East that are not screened carefully enough for lead, bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and a whole host of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can potentially harm us. Americans have reason to wonder why our leaders lag behind those in Europe who have passed REACH legislation that gives them tighter control over 30,000 chemicals currently in use.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By e.e.wulf on June 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have been making very different choices since reading this book. The night I read the first 80 or so pages I went around the house, rounded up all of our personal and household cleaning products and went through every long, inscrutable list of ingredients. Everything but my Burt's Bees lipbalm and the Meyers dish soap contained some chemical flagged by scientific studies around the globe as unequivocally harmful to the human body or environment. I was astounded. I now read the labels and ingredients of most everything that passes into the home. Though they are not those at eye level with nostalgic brand names, safe and effective products are there to be found. I am reminded of the cigarette companies solution to the 60's revelation that tobacco was a potent carcinogen. They presented counter studies saying that there was no absolute link between smoking and cancer (studies, I may add, they generally paid for). All it takes is a bit of doubt at the back of our minds to allow us to continue in our familiar groove. This book jarred me out of mine. It can feel like a burden but one I am sure will not feel heavy for long if shared.

Bit of a side rant, apologies:
I have always thought of my family as taking above average care with our consumerism, eating organically grown foods, avoiding excess packaging, cleaning our bodies and houses with a clear conscience. That is what the companies using these toxic ingredients have led us to believe. To my disgust and anger the FDA had enabled these corner-cutting companies with it's "innocent until proven guilty" position on the safety of new chemical compounds. Europe has taken the opposite stance and is healthier for it; their bodies and water supply are less contaminated. How can Americans accept anything less? Read this book and, armed, let us do better.
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Format: Hardcover
I am very interested in health issues involving food, water, or pollution in our daily environment. So this book looked very promising, especially when the author started with the small case study which found that some organic farmers living in rural Maine had very high concentrations of toxic or carcinogenic substances in their bodies - in other words, our environment is pervasively polluted. What a wake up call!

However, the book goes meandering downhill from there. It is written in a narrative style and the author does not try to organize his thoughts. Each chapter is chock full of random anecdotes about him looking at labels in the mall or talking with some poor soul who has extreme allergies. Along the way the author does mention a few harmful substances, mainly BPA, flame retardants, and phthalates.

The topic is very serious, and something I am deeply interested in, for the sake of my family's health. Unfortunately, this book does not deliver much that I did not already know or suspect, except perhaps a wake up call to try and read labels more carefully, use fewer synthetics, and choose more natural products (besides just foods).

The problems with this book are:

- Absolutely no actionable advice. After many chapters full of scaremongering, there are no useful pointers to brands, products, cleaner alternatives, or good practices to help you get away from the toxic environment. None! I wish he had tried to distil some useful advice, like Michael Pollan in Food Rules. OK, he mentions 7th Generation in passing (almost randomly in the middle of some rant), but they only make cleaning supplies, and the book claims to cover clothing, cosmetics, furniture, electronics, bottles, toys etc.
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