Book Review: Breath

by James NestorRiverhead Books
reviewed by Kathryn Drury Wagner
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art Cover

Buy Now

It's a rare popular-science book that keeps a reader up late, eyes glued to the pages. But Breath is just that fascinating. It will alarm you. It will gross you out. And it will inspire you. Who knew respiration could be so scintillating?

At the helm of our thrilling ride is author James Nestor, a veteran writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Outside, and Scientific American, among many others.

Nestor went in search of why so many modern humans have crooked teeth, and it led him down a rabbit hole of nasal knowledge, interviewing experts, learning about ratios of carbon dioxide, and discovering how scary nose breathing really is.

Turns out that around the time of the Industrial Revolution, when many foods became processed and mushier, human skulls started de-evolving. Our teeth are meant to grind and chew, and without that strong motion, our once-wide nasal passages changed shape, collapsing our faces inward and leading to congestion and chronic health problems like snoring. The lack of chewing also stunts bone development in our dental arches, resulting in underdeveloped jaws that are too small to fit our teeth.

Reading this book may have you reaching for jerky, gum, perhaps a nice piece of ante- lope skin. But there is hope. “Respiration,” Nestor writes, “can also lead to restoration.” He explores how breath patterns, such as those used in Kundalini yoga, can improve functions of the heart, circulation, and nervous systems. It’s gratifying to read ways you can grab hold of your health via your own nose. As Nestor reports, the nose is the “gatekeeper of our breath, pharmacist to our minds, and weather vane to our emotions.”

Enjoying this content?

Get this article and many more delivered straight to your inbox weekly.