When you write a book that is titled "Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History," you probably expect a question something like this: What on Earth was the impetus for the work ... and the title?
Florence Williams, the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for science and technology, proved to be ready for the query. During a video chat at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Saturday, she explained that she had been nursing her second child and wondered about toxins in her breast milk.
She said a vial of the fluid was sent to a lab and produced some surprising results: The lab discovered trace amounts of pesticides, dioxin and a jet fuel ingredient -- in addition to "high to average levels" of flame retardants.
A magazine article (for the New York Times) and a book were born.
In addition to environmental concerns, Williams wrote about breast size, breast cancer and breast implants in the book, which was published last year.
Reviewing the book for the New York Times, M.G. Lord wrote: "'Breasts' is less a primer on anatomy than a catalog of environmental devastation akin to Rachel Carson's 1962 classic 'Silent Spring,' which detailed the impact of industrial chemicals -- notably, the pesticide DDT -- on animal life. But Williams, who cites Carson as an inspiration, has written a far scarier book. Carson examined birds and fish. Williams looks at us."