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

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  709 ratings  ·  83 reviews
With this eloquent and impassioned book, biologist and poet Sandra Steingraber shoulders the legacy of Rachel Carson, producing a work about people and land, cancer and the environment, that is as accessible and invaluable as Silent Spring--and potentially as historic.

In her early twenties, Steingraber was afflicted with cancer, a disease that has afflicted other members o
Paperback, 374 pages
Published July 28th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1997)
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4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  709 ratings  ·  83 reviews

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Apr 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Why do I read books like these? They just make me mad. I'll never think about water in the same way again. Sometimes books on the environment and its toxins are just unsubstantiated sensationalistic rants. This one is not.
Mar 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sandra Steingraber is one of my environmental heroes. Secretly I want to be like her "when I grow up," a scientist who is able to convey important scientific knowledge to the lay public. Her style seamlessly blends emotion-stirring imagery with scientific research. This book is her personal inquiry into the environmental origins of cancer, particularly the bladder cancer she suffered in her early 20s, and the throat cancer that ultimately took her best friend's life.

Among the things I really ap
Jan 19, 2013 rated it liked it
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loved Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. In many ways, this is a sequel to the original book that brought the danger of pesticides and pollutants to the public's attention. Mixed in with all of the scientific talk about cancer cells, carcinogens, and pollutants are stories of the author's personal battle with cancer, the struggles of those in her home town who fought (unsuccessfully) for someone to recognize the high rate of cancer among residents, and pers ...more
Over a month after finishing the book, I finally have my review ready:
Living Downstream was a very dense book, and reading it was sometimes quite depressing. It really served to raise my awareness about how little regulation of chemicals there is in the US. This lack of regulation and oversight means that untold pounds of chemicals are released into the air, ground, and water every day, and individually and in combination, many of these chemicals put us at greater risk for getting cancer. Contra
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
I've tried to avoid adding books I've had to read for school, because I think when I don't have a choice it's hard to like something. However, there are books I learn from and enjoy that I read for school. I've decided it's only fair to review them as well.

This book was required reading for an English class. The class had a weird mix of majors. I've met science majors and creative writing majors in this class, but I couldn't point out one person I know to be an English major.

I learned a lot from
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I first saw the documentary based on this book because my friend had worked as part of the film's outreach team. The film was beautifully done, and the Q&A session with Steingraber and the director was thought-provoking. I decided to read the book for a nonprofit law and policy class.

I read Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" in high school, which opened my eyes and terrified me at the same time. "Living Downstream" is definitely reminiscent of "Silent Spring", but Steingraber employs her backgr
Aug 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book opened my eyes to lots of the problems with all types of pollution that can enter our bodies. I don't know if I can ever live in Iowa. It is a must read. I would like to see more results of correlation studies of types of cancer related to what is in the local environment, workplaces, and ground water.
Mar 15, 2008 rated it liked it
A bit difficult to read, as I read it while Lorene was struggling to fight breast cancer for the third time. Makes a powerful point about the consequences of the U.S. ignoring the precautionary principle and waiting to see if enough people get cancer to force a chemical to be banned before any action is taken.
May 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A maddening and exhilarating read. Though the book is over 20 years old, unfortunately not much has changed. We are still spilling poisons into our environment; into our water, soil, and air. And still, the long-suspected causalities between environmental factors and cancers have not been studied in earnest, for a variety of negligent reasons. So as a result, the agencies that are supposed to protect us deem that such and such chemical's deleterious effect on human health cannot be confirmed, or ...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Steingraber writes about the correlation between environmental toxins and cancer, and her research is not just credible but convincing, and scary as hell. It is also nothing particularly new, and while I honestly do not mean this to be dismissive of her or her work, there are WAY too many comparisons of her to Rachel Carson. Carson is a giant in the field and few can touch her. Nevertheless, even as we roll back governmental protections in the United States under our own current toxic administra ...more
Joseph Michael
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A real heart-bearing narrative of how small rural communities are effectively denegrated by the decisions of corporate farming and waste. Its a sad reality that bears to the mind in her scientific exploration of the facts. She takes no punches in coming to her conclusions and there's little room for symphathizing with apathy or inaction by the end. If you can get through the details of the science and keep up with the stories, it's a beautiful and impactful read.
Apr 28, 2018 rated it liked it
I had to read this for my Environmental Justice class. It was very informative and I enjoyed the personal take on cancer and the environment. What I didn't like were the constant references to Rachel Carson.
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
I couldn't finish this book. That doesn't mean it wasn't well written, but it was just too slow for me to get into.
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
Now believe me, I probably would never have picked up this book if it wasn't for my Sociology of Health & Illness course I was taking. We needed to pick a book to read that had to do with health, so instead of doing the book Fast Food Nation, like every other person in the class [and because I had already read it before in high school], I decided to go with a book my professor mentioned in class, a book that made me look more deeply into cancer. Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Inv ...more
Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in the cumulative effective of our toxic world on our health
Recommended to suz by: Alice Dan
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 n
Chris Demer
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine, environment
This is a remarkably well written and well documented look at the environmental causes of cancer. The author scrupulously researched patterns of cancer incidence and was able to connect this to toxic-release information available under right-to-know laws.

As a student of the environment, as well as a cancer survivor and biologist, she is able to connect the dots between the cellular changes that cause cancers and the millions of tons of toxic substances used and dumped into the environment. She m
Gerald Kinro
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read the newer revised edition. With a very polished narrative, the author fuses her personal bout with cancer with scientific data on cancer, carcinogens, and the environment. It is well organized and documented. I liked the read. In simple language, she explains the role of carcinogens in the propagation of cancerous cells, and endocrine disruption.

I would have liked it better if she had included charts and graphs to illustrate some of the trends and to illustrate some quantitative material
Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What an enlightening book. The information is already 10 years old, but all is relevant today. It is so suprising that we are still dealing with the same issues today. We have known that many, many chemicals can cause cancer, but we still keep producing them, releasing them into the air, into the water, feeding them to our animals, our gardens, ourselves, we sell them to third world countries when they are banned here. Yikes. I can't get over it. Is there anyone out there who does not know that ...more
Michelle Mullin
This is among the best books I have ever read.

It is a story about one woman's struggle with cancer, and the environment that caused it. She is the daughter of a farmer from rural Illinois, grew up in a town surrounded by industry, and went on to become an ecologist. She explains the issues that communities face in terms of pollution and exposure, but also how they try to strike a balance and ensure their members are employed, have a community. She describes the plight of the farmer so that you u
Steingraber, a cancer survivor and ecologist, looks into how the environment may play a part in the development of, and incidence increase of, cancer in America today. A science writer, Steingraber brings in many scientific articles and studies that support her statements and concerns in this area.

This si a bit of a slow read, simply because it is so long and fact heavy. But is is definitely worth it - if only to open your eyes to how contaminated our environment is by all the artificial chemica
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: environment
A very well written compliment to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Steingraber takes a look at the role our environment plays in the increase of cancer rates in our country. Loaded with compelling evidence, this book lays out the ways in which we poison the world around us with carcinogenic materials. She explains the arguments that are generally against her opinions, but counters with common sense. One can only breathe, drink, and touch poison for so long before it begins to affect one's body. We ...more
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
it’s hard to read a book like Living Downstream without getting a little bit angry. The book was written 15 years ago, and succinctly documents the link between environment and cancer, and how often the link is ignored in favour of more convenient problems. while I haven’t read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, I imagine both books have the same frustrated underlying tone describing a problem that is so obvious and so ignored.

despite this frustration, there is good news laced through the book in th
Jeremy Papuga
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is kind of a depressing book. I was well aware of pesticides being linked to cancer, but not aware of how prevalent carcinogens are in our everyday life. I thought Steingraber did a great job integrating her personal experiences with cancer and her hometown with the science of carcinogens. You can definitely tell that she has a background in ecology and biology and explains the science in terms that the public can understand. However the reader can get bogged down in all the details of chem ...more
Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment by Sandra Steingraber, combines science and the author’s own story. I heard Ms. Steingraber talk about fracking during the 2012 Bioneers conference and found her a compelling speaker. I decided to look for her books and came across Living Downstream. The title and cover photo gave me pause, it looked depressing and scary, but I thought Ms. Steingraber probably had something important to share. So I bought the ...more
Mar 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Ingeniously structured and bursting at the seams with research. It was occasionally almost too technical for me, but Steingraber is a great writer and intersperses relevant anecdotes about her own cancer diagnosis and growing up in a farming community amongst in-depth descriptions of endocrine disruptors and DNA adducts.

More than anything else I've read, "Living Downstream" has motivated me to learn more about ecology, our exposure to petrochemicals, and how to support local, organic farming pra
Emily Kimball
Nov 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Steingraber's evidence and thoughtful analysis pulled me into a deeper understanding of our roles within the greater environment. It took me over two months to get through (there is a lot of medical and ecological jargon that took me longer to process) but this book was absolutely worth the journey. Steingraber confronts the systems that favor the use of carcinogens from the perspective of a human rights activist, a trained ecologist, a cancer survivor, and as someone who cares deeply about ...more
Dec 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I've gotten sort of stalled on this book, partly because I had to return it to the library and have just gotten it back again, but it is a bizarre combination of personal story and scientific text. I enjoy her casual writing style, and was hoping the science-y part would be easier to follow than most, but it is not at all. We'll see if I can manage to trudge through that part. (note, it gets better!)

It seems the point is that as a society we produce a lot of stuff that causes cancer, and shouldn
Feb 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Although it be somewhat of a depressing book, it is informative, enlightening, and thought-provoking. To see how blind we can become, how ignorant we are of the consequences our choices cause not just now but in the long run really makes you stop and think that perhaps just because everything seems okay now, we might want to really consider our actions. I highly recommend this book but I would recommend reading "Silent Spring" first as she references that a lot. Health is not just what we eat, b ...more
Kathleen O'Grady
Oct 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was groundbreaking when it was first released, and still (sadly) relevent today, given its emphasis on the link between the health of our environment and human health, as well as the clear environmental links to certain kinds of cancers.

The feature-length documentary film, based on the book, is also a loving composition of both the author's work, as a biologist and ecologist, and her activism as a cancer-survivor.

Steingraber's narrative is less linear science and more poetic exploration th
Aug 07, 2010 is currently reading it
I'm learning a great deal of important, little-known information about the relationships between cancer and the environment. Especially, sadly, about the lack of acknowledgement of, proper investigations into, and actions towards resolving this blatant problem. Very well-researched by a well-educated, cancer-surviving ecologist. Nicely integrates personal stories to make a lot of statistical information more real.
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Ecologist, author, and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized expert on the environmental links to cancer and reproductive health. She received her doctorate in biology from the University of Michigan and master’s degree in English from Illinois State University. She is the author of Post-Diagnosis, a volume of poetry, and coauthor of a book on ecology and huma ...more
“The time trends and spatial features of cancer’s occurrence around the globe clearly belie the notion that cancer is a random misfortune. Cancer associates with westernization. Whereas forty years ago, cancer was mostly a disease of wealthy nations, half of all cancers now occur in developing nations, particularly those rapidly industrializing.” 1 likes
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