Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (Review)

Book cover for "Breasts" by Florence Williams.Title: Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

Author: Florence Williams

Narrator: Kate Reading

Publication Year: 2012

Pages: 352 (audio length: 9 hours 43 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from

From the cover:

Did you know that breast milk contains substances similar to cannabis? Or that it’s sold on the Internet for 262 times the price of oil? Feted and fetishized, the breast is an evolutionary masterpiece. But in the modern world, the breast is changing. Breasts are getting bigger, arriving earlier, and attracting newfangled chemicals. Increasingly, the odds are stacked against us in the struggle with breast cancer, even among men. What makes breasts so mercurial — and so vulnerable?

In this informative and highly entertaining account, intrepid science reporter Florence Williams sets out to uncover the latest scientific findings from the fields of anthropology, biology, and medicine. Her investigation follows the life cycle of the breast from puberty to pregnancy to menopause, taking her from a plastic surgeon’s office where she learns about the importance of cup size in Texas to the laboratory where she discovers the presence of environmental toxins in her own breast milk. The result is a fascinating exploration of where breasts came from, where they have ended up, and what we can do to save them.

This book was absolutely fascinating.

Seriously! Not only did it talk about the history of breasts – like how we probably ended up with them in the first place, and how attitudes towards breastfeeding have changed over the years – it also included quite a lot of information about how our breasts function throughout our lives. There was a wealth of information about puberty, breastfeeding, sexual attraction, and health concerns (including breast cancer) that I’d never known before. And it was all presented in a simple, matter-of-fact, friendly manner. It felt a lot like something Mary Roach would’ve written, but with a little more seriousness and a little bit less tongue-in-cheek humour.

One thing I will say: Breasts definitely changed how I look at a lot of things. For one, it’s made me absolutely terrified about some of the chemicals we surround ourselves with in our modern life. Williams talks, in particular, about how the chemicals that hold our food and our beauty products – as well as the chemicals that are in these products themselves! – are ending up stored in our breast tissue and are being transmitted through our breastmilk. (Yikes!) As a result of this book, I’ve actually started thinking very critically about some of the products that I use in my day-to-day life, and I’m trying to figure out how I can limit exposure to as many of them as possible.

The only negative thing I can say about this book is that it left out a few issues I would’ve liked it to cover. Williams went into detail about the history of breast augmentation, but never got into anything about other breast surgeries – such as reductions or mastectomies. She mentions breast cancer a few times, but never really goes into the surgery end of things … whereas she did do this in the case of implants.

I’d definitely recommend that you read Breasts, whether in traditional form or as an audiobook. Reading did a fantastic job with the narration. She kept the tone light and interesting all through the book, even when it got into the more complex science. If you’ve got breasts, or know and love someone who has breasts, I think you should read this book! There’s just so much to know that we’re not aware of, and I think that the more we educate ourselves, the better. And, really, how better to do that than with an accessible book like this one?


2 thoughts on “Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (Review)”

  1. How interesting! I’m sure I’d be affected by the discussion of chemicals too – I’ve cut out lots of stuff already, once I knew what it did to my body I didn’t want to eat/use it anymore. I’ll see if my library has this.

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