suz's Reviews > Living Downstream: A Scientist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment

Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber
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's review
Feb 15, 2008

it was amazing
Recommended to suz by: Alice Dan
Recommended for: people interested in the cumulative effective of our toxic world on our health
Read in January, 2001

from reviewon Amazon by Michel Aaij (Montgomery, AL) Amazon link

Here is a great book I think we all should read. Steingraber's thesis is relatively simple: environmental factors play a much larger role in the increase of cancer than hitherto assumed by individuals, public health officials, and regulators, and we should act accordingly. Her argument is well-researched and takes into account many of the pollutants we find in our air, water, earth, and bodies, and is presented intermittently as narrative and analysis.
I like the structure of the book, the organization into chapters titled "time," "space," "war," and the like. I also like her alternating personal narrative (she is a bladder-cancer survivor, a native of Illinois, a graduate student, a researcher--we find out lots of things) with the cold hard facts and sometimes the fuzzy facts of cancer research and regulation of chemicals. The only thing that holds me back, which is why I gave it four stars, is that the book is a bit too long for my taste at almost 400 pages--I, a layperson, could have done with a bit less detail (though I understand she's covering her bases) and a bit more politics (though I understand she's being careful, not naming too many names).

The best chapter is the final one: if you come across this book and have other things to do, at least read the last chapter--most convincing is her deconstruction of the public policy of 'personal responsibility': sure, some cancers may be associated with personal lifestyle, but more important are the things we have little individual control over, such as the air we breathe, the land our kids play on, the streams we swim in. Blame, Steingraber implies/states (she's not always so outspoken), lies less with us citizens, taxpayers, cancer patients, than with the companies that manufacture products and byproducts that may be carcinegous and are simply allowed to do so until proven otherwise, and the regulators (our government, at all levels) who let them do so. Bravo--it needed to be said, and I'm glad Steingraber did it.

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