Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History - Florence   Williams At a time when women's health, women's rights and, you know, the basic idea that women are human beings capable of independent thought is often at the forefront of American political discussion, it's somewhat jarring to realize how little we know for sure about one of the body parts that makes us women. We know that they're good for feeding our children, but why do humans have breasts that other mammals -- including our closest genetic cousins, chimps -- don't? Different theories are out there, but the truth is that we're not really sure. The evolutionary and anthropological history was fascinating, and I wish there were more material readily available to explore on the topic.

Williams spends a lot of time on breast health -- cancer, the effects of birth control, toxins that can be stored in breasts and transferred to our children via breast milk. There's a lot of hard science to report in these areas, and a lot of it is frightening. But what's even more frightening is what we don't know about breast health. Does pregnancy provide a safeguard against breast cancer? Sometimes. Does having an abortion increase your risk of breast cancer? It might. The mammary glands are often overlooked in research that looks at how different chemicals and environmental factors affect our bodies, so we don't really know as much as we should about protecting our breasts.

It never occurred to me that breasts are one of the only large body parts in which no one specializes.

The chapter that frightened me the most? Breast implants. I've never had any form of surgery, so the notion that someone would go to that extreme to change their body boggles my mind. Just because the idea of a surgical procedure terrifies me, not because I want to judge other people's decisions. Though, as the owner of a set of 40D whoppers, I don't really know why anyone would want them. The frightening thing is the lack of regulation that has gone into breast augmentation over the years. I mean, the same compounds used in early silicone implants are also used in jet fuels. Why was this considered okay!? It's just a shame to me that breasts have been fetishized to the point where you'd go to such lengths to make them larger with so little regard for women's long-term safety. It just goes to show the general disregard history has had for the well-being of women. Or, maybe Todd Akin's gotten me too fired up.

There's a lot of research in this book, but it's still compulsively readable. Williams is funny and personable, balancing scientific ideas with wit and anecdotes. And I appreciate that there wasn't a lot of overly sexy material. Not because I'm a prude, but because it would overshadow what's important here. I highly recommend this book to every woman out there. Learn about your bodies, ladies!