“I just completed the alarming new book ‘Count Down’ by reproductive epidemiologist Shanna H. Swan, PhD, with journalist Stacey Colino. I had heard Dr. Swan on the NPR radio show On Point (you can find it archived). Her interview came on the heels of the news that the 2020 census revealed that from 2010 to 2020 the U.S. had its second-lowest growth rate in history. Some attributed that trend to women delaying having children so they could have careers. Dr. Swan, however, points out that the greater cause might be men.

“Men’s sperm counts and testosterone levels have been declining for over four decades. The quality of men’s sperm has also diminished. Meanwhile, miscarriages are on the rise, as are the incidents of gender dysphoria (one’s psychological identity not in sync with one’s biological sex). Increasing as well are cases of ‘ambiguous genitalia,’ in both humans and in wild creatures. She cites actual measurements (anogenital distance, for example) to explain both the biological and the behavioral trends.

This downward spiral of reproduction stems from mankind itself, according to the book. Lifestyles (stress, delaying or eschewing parenthood) are factors, but mostly it is chemicals causing our reproductive changes, Dr. Swan writes. ‘Antiandrogenic phthalates’ (plastics) and “endocrine-disruptors” are two major culprits. They are almost unavoidable in modern society and when one is banned, another one is created that could be just as bad, the book says, but it takes years to find that out.

“Though ‘Count Down’ cites many studies to explain what is happening and why, the book is still quite readable. Colino’s training as a journalist ensures that the language is understandable and at times even humorous. This is an important book about the damage mankind is doing to itself and to future generations.” — DEWEY METEER, Nobleboro

Mainers, please email to tell us about the book on your bedside table right now. In a few sentences, describe the book and be sure to tell us what drew you to it. The pandemic in Maine is receding, but if you’re like us, you’re still reading and we want to hear what and why. Send your selection to [email protected], and we may use it as a future Bedside Table.

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