The Truth About Hormones was shortlisted for the Aventis Prize for science writing. As I'm nearing the age when my sister's menopause started, and have also been diagnosed with thyroid problems, it seemed a good thing to read. Although I learnt a great deal from it -- and enjoyed its generally light-hearted tone -- I'm a little disappointed.
For one thing, this book is very deliberately aimed at a female readership. Parry, as well as being an ex-presenter of Tomorrow's World [pop science TV programme] and a columnist for the Guardian [highbrow newspaper], is the science editor of Good Housekeeping magazine [august British periodical aimed at 30+ female readership]. There's nothing on the cover to say 'for women', but honestly they might as well have decked it out in pink and white. There are repeated references to 'your breasts', 'your monthly cycle', and so on, and more than a few jokes at the expense of males -- middle-aged, teenaged, and anything in between -- that I'll bet some men would find offensive. And some of her humour is better-suited to her News of the World column than to what's been touted (though, to be fair, not by its author) as a pop science book. Yes, a toyboy may be a better solution than HRT to post-menopause blues, but for many -- most? -- women it isn't an option available to them.
There are also some sections where the author's opinions are presented in a way that doesn't quite sit with the 'plain explanation' style of other parts of the book. She's not impressed with women who complain about side-effects of the Pill -- "there are plenty of other effective contraceptive methods". (Yep, but for many women the issue is we were told it was safe and it's turned out not to be.)
I did learn a lot from this book, and found it fascinating despite all the problems I've mentioned above. Did you know:
- thyroxine is the hormone that turns tadpoles into frogs?
- PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) has been linked to the gene that, in men, causes premature baldness?
- that switching on the bathroom light in the middle of the night drastically reduces your melatonin?
- that the mother's stress levels in pregnancy affect the child's stress tolerance / response throughout life?
- that men pay more attention to what's heard with their right ear?
Well, you do now.