This thin volume is a loose collection of factoids connected by the unifying theme that all living things, down to the cellular level, follow daily and seasonal rhythms. Despite the subtitle, much of the focus is on general biology, rather than human culture. This is not necessarily a disappointment – the fact that fireflies glow only at night even when kept in perpetual darkness is an interesting observation. But this and many other examples just beg a larger and naggingly unanswered question: how? By what mechanism do living things keep track of the time of day? I for one was expecting that to be a fundamental line of inquiry. It may well be that there is no proven answer, but the author does not fully explore possible explanations beyond the effect of light on the human brain. Such lack of depth is consistent and dissatisfying throughout. Titillating facts are certainly dropped, sometimes in sidebars for some reason, but then not explored or even referenced. As another reviewer noted on Amazon.ca, the author also has a tendency to dwell on personal anecdotes that are only tangentially related to the story, taking up space in an already short work.
My biggest criticism came near the end, just as I found things to be getting most interesting. In less than two pages the subject of chronobiology of tumor growth and drug effects is addressed. Gamble then suggests that hypertensive medication be taken at bedtime to have an effect during the morning surge in blood pressure. She provides no documentation whether there is any evidence for the safety of this suggestion – the book has no bibliography or footnotes. Particularly in patients with cerebrovascular disease, this tip could prove downright dangerous by lowering blood pressure further when it is already low during sleep. The subject is compelling enough – no need for unsolicited and unqualified medical advice!
I give this title three stars for being a broad primer on an interesting topic, but it lacks the depth and cohesion of the best popular science writing.
"Ultimately, The Siesta and the Midnight Sun is a lot like the biological processes it documents and deconstructs--utterly fascinating, but not always comfortable. And that's a good thing." -- BoingBoing
"It is the combination of personal experience, science and cultural observation that makes this book much richer than any one-dimensional view of body time. And of course its appeal is all the greater because we all have our own personal stories to tell." -- Jay Ingram, host of Daily Planet
"Ms. Gamble's exploration of how culture affects our natural rhythms runs the gamut from biology class to anthropological lesson. It also shares at least a few concerns and observations about how our 20th- and 21st-century habits have wreaked havoc on our internal clocks." -- National Post
"It is no wonder that the Globe & Mail selected Gamble's book as one of five sleepers to watch for this fall - it is absolutely fascinating. Jessa Gamble's brilliant exploration of time with its focus on our biological rhythms and the perils of sleeplessness is sure to draw a large time-pressed readership." -- Northern News Service
I saw the author's TED talk about sleep and got intrigued, so I bought the book; I was expecting revelations about sleep, and found some of the facts exposed in the book quite interesting. Unfortunately, they're drowned in a sea of bland personal stories; all in all, this 200-or-so page book could easily be distilled into 75 pages if that filler was removed - I don't need to read about the author's jet lag experiences (we *all* know the feeling), nor am I interested in her personal, redundant and unenlightening observations about people living under the midnight sun. Imperfections aside, when the author is really dealing with sleep and circadian cycle science, the book rocks.