... eye-opening ... filled with the outrageous and entertaining stories about Warburg’s self-conceit ... The biochemical complexities get a bit gnarly—there’s a dizzying amount of detail, making it hard to follow the main thread on occasion ... I walked away from Ravenous thinking of Otto Warburg as a sort of Sigmund Freud of cancer research. Freud got One Big Thing right—that the unconscious drives much of human behavior. But he was wrong on nearly every detail. Similarly, Warburg explicitly rejected good evidence for the insulin-cancer link during his lifetime, among other blunders, making it tricky to uphold him as a pioneer of modern cancer research.
Apple has a tendency to undercut his vivid scene setting by raising the emotional stakes beyond what the evidence supports ... his discovery that cancer cells behave differently from healthy cells in two very specific ways: They consume massive amounts of glucose — Apple compares them to ravenous shipwrecked sailors — and they eschew aerobic respiration in favor of fermentation ... Apple covers everything from Hitler’s obsessive preoccupation with cancer to how the German Empire’s transformation into an industrial powerhouse led to a Romanticism-fueled movement that emphasized both environmental and racial purity. The fact that Apple can make these stories, many of which have been told before, feel so immediate is a testament to his canny knack for choosing apposite details ... When he attempts to unravel the conundrums at the center of Warburg’s life, however, he is hamstrung by a dearth of primary sources ... Apple is less adept at explaining cutting-edge science than at making history come alive ... But if the chapters explaining the links between glucose, insulin and cancer are not among Apple’s strongest, the gist of what he’s saying should still lead readers to think twice the next time they reach for a soft drink.
Apple skillfully blends science writing with biography to present the story of this quirky, arrogant, and brilliant scientist ... An illuminating account that makes Warburg (the man and the scientist) accessible to general readers.