Oxygen, the breath of life, by Dr. Olen R. Brown, is an extensively researched compilation of all things concerning oxygen and its role in biology. Topics run the gamut from the formation of the element oxygen after the big bang, to the use of oxygen in human therapy, and to the effect of reactive oxygen byproducts on human health. The book is written as a series of extensively referenced chapters that can be read individually as separate works. The book does a remarkable job covering the history of discoveries in this field with interesting vignettes on the individuals involved. As an experimental scientist, I gained a better understanding of how ideally adapted our lungs, circulatory system and blood are in the delivery of oxygen throughout the body. There is an excellent account of the development of oxygen therapy and its benefits and limitations. A strong point of the book is the linkage between the formation of very reactive oxygen by-products such as superoxide anion and hydroxyl radicals during oxygen respiration and the problems that these reactive chemicals can cause at the cellular level. But more significantly, Dr. Brown explains how damage at the cellular level leads to neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s diseases, cardiovascular and lung disease, and aging. Through reading these chapters, you get an appreciation that it is normal for small amounts of reactive oxygen chemicals to form during our daily activities. Our bodies have the machinery to detoxify low levels of these chemicals. However, when genetic, physiological or environmental factors occur that result in increased formation of reactive oxygen chemicals then damage can occur. Dr. Brown provides first hand knowledge of his own research on hyperbaric oxygen therapy, reactive oxygen species and the mechanism by which damage occurs. Throughout the discussion, the reader can envision how molecular level reactions relate to the organ-level function or dysfunction. The book ends with futuristic thinking about the types of dwellings needed for humans to live under the ocean or in space and the realization that these building must be designed to avoid problems with hyperbaric and hypobaric oxygen conditions. For the most part, nonscientists can understand the material; however, I found that the chapters on reactive oxygen damage and human diseases to be technical and require knowledge of medical/scientific terminology for full understanding. If you are interested in quirky facts about oxygen, if you want to know how oxygen is used in our body, or if you want to understand how key human health issues are related to oxygen use, then this book will have the answers.
Michael J. McInerney
Professor of Microbiology
University of Oklahoma, USA
Overall the book is very appealing and would make a good reading to the biologists, chemists, and physicists, and to some extent non-scientists.
Babu V Bassa
Southern University, Baton Rouge, USA