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This is a fascinating look at the history and impact of pregnancy tests. The author does a great job of explaining how these tests have changed over time and how they have affected women's lives. I feel like the book is well-researched and full of interesting details and we see how pregnancy tests have influenced women's choices and experiences. Despite the detailed research, the book is easy to read and understand. It’s a perfect book for anyone interested in learning more about this topic.

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Laboratory pregnancy tests have been available since the 1930s and home pregnancy tests – the focus here – since the 1970s. All of them work by testing urine for the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). What is truly wild is that pregnancy used to be verifiable only with laboratory animals – female mice and rabbits had to be sacrificed to see if their ovaries had swelled after the injection of a woman’s urine; later, female Xenopus toads were found to lay eggs in response, so didn’t need to be killed. Home pregnancy kits were controversial and available in Canada before the USA because it was thought that they could be unreliable or that they would encourage early abortions. Weingarten brings together the history, laypeople-friendly science, and cultural representations (taking a pregnancy test is excellent TV shorthand) in a readable narrative and makes a clear feminist statement: “the home pregnancy test gave back to women what should have always been theirs: first-hand knowledge about how their bodies worked” and thus “had the potential to upend a paternalistic culture.”

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I believe that this is my sixth entry in the Object Lessons series, short books that focus on the hidden history of everyday objects. Although the concept is excellent, I have had a very up and down relationship with the series, it seems that I alternate between “very interesting” and “not at all”. Luckily the latest lesson for me, “Pregnancy Test” by Karen Weingarten, is one of the better entries in this series, being both scientific and social, telling the story of something that we take for granted in today’s society.

Ms. Weingarten starts with the story of Margaret Crane and her work designing the first at-home test. The amount of pushback was ridiculous, from doctors and laboratories that realized that their power and control (not to mention revenue) were under threat. We then get an overview of the science, and the fact that a pregnancy test does not test for a viable pregnancy but for the presence of a hormone tied to the existence of a placenta. This little wrinkle actually changed what the definition of pregnancy became, since earlier detection spotted situations that we’ve never had to deal with before.

The societal impact is even bigger than the science, I know I must be pretty naïve to be shocked that in my lifetime doctors were deciding whether a woman was allowed to have a pregnancy test (based on the doctor’s impression on whether she’d have an abortion) or discussing pregnancy with the husband in another room while the wife waited for them to make a decision. Ms. Weingarten also goes into the advertising world, how the adverts have changed to minimize certain impressions and quell the public outcry of marginalized women taking control of their own bodies and making their own decisions.

All-in-all a fascinating look at an everyday object, exactly what the series sets out to do.

I requested and received a free advanced electronic copy from Bloomsbury Academic via NetGalley. Thank you!

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A very interesting read that shines light on the evolution of pregnancy tests and its symbolic role in society over the years. I really enjoyed how the author dug into the science of pregnancy tests but also explored the emotional, social and economical of this object, asking the central question: Pregnancy tests — objectifying or empowering women?

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This is a really fascinating and well-researched book about the history of pregnancy tests and the cultural impact that they have. It is short but sweet, splitting the book into two sections and brining in a lot of relevant pop culture and personal anecdotes. I found this to be really helpful because it is quite a heavily scientific book with a lot about immunology and hormones in order to understand the body and testing for pregnancy. This helped it to be more digestible.

I loved the interview with Meg Crane who Weingarten credits with being essential to the process of the at-home pregnancy test. It was great to hear it from the horses mouth as they say.

I learnt a lot about the history of how doctors tested (with animals) and even found myself shocked at a lot of the anecdotes about how women were treated. I very much enjoyed the feminist tone that this book took and I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to lean more about the culture surrounding pregnancy tests and the implications that it has had for women throughout time.

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An excellent addition to the Object Lessons series. Informative, well-researched and comprehensive, the author explores the science/art of pregnancy testing through the ages right up to the cheap and easily attainable tests that are available today – with many a fascinating stop along the way. Unlike many in the series this one was much more fact-based with fewer personal anecdotes, and that appealed to me. I learnt a lot and I suspect most readers will too.

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The blurb for I Have Some Questions For You sounded right up my street, so I wanted to love it more than I did. While brilliantly written, the story tried to do too much, and Rebeca Makkai didn’t quite pull it off.

When film professor and podcaster Bodie Kane is invited back to the boarding school she attended to teach podcasting, one of her students decides to reexamine the murder of Thalia Keith, Bodie’s classmate and one-time roommate.

Told across two timelines, the present day and Bodie’s school days in the 1990s, I Have Some Questions For You grapples with some heavy themes, including the ethics of true crime as entertainment, the Me Too movement, cancel culture, and racial bias in the US criminal justice system. Makkai handles some of these themes better than others.

The storyline I had the biggest issue with is challenging to discuss in detail because although it is a subplot, I don’t want to include spoilers. What I will say is that while there is a case to be made that the vagueness, lack of clarity or any real sense of resolution that I found so frustrating is an accurate portrayal of how these experiences play out in real life and on social media, I do not think Makkai gave this storyline the attention required for this conclusion to work.

Again, on a sentence level, Makkai’s writing is beautiful. But by the end, I wasn’t invested in any of the characters or how the main story was resolved.

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This is about the history of the pregnancy test, how the modern at-home tests came about and the ways pregnancy was tested for prior to that. There is discussion of the effects of women being able to control the knowledge about their own bodies versus being controlled by (usually male) doctors. There is also a brief section of the effect of the availability of home pregnancy tests on those dealing with infertility and the ambiguity of tests and disappointment when it comes to chemical pregnancies (the existence of which was not even known prior to home testing being available) and/or nonviable pregnancies. There is a definite pro-choice slant. It was interesting scientifically and socially and also a pretty quick read. 4 stars.

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Such a powerful book on sex, pregnancy, and women empowerment. I don't feel like near enough people have been exposed to this book. I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

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Thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Academic for the ARC of this!

This was an interesting look at the history of an item that feels like a given in this day and age, through a feminist lens. I did know that original testing was on animals, but I didn’t realize exactly how it worked and it was fascinating to learn about. The nod to dystopian literature and where our world may be going felt especially timely. Overall it was paced well, interesting and informational without going on too long.

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This book was a total surprise for me by the time I finished. I had no idea about the ins and outs of pregnancy test and how they came to be. Very informative and entertaining in my opinion. Learning new things is always a plus wether you agree with the author or not. All perspectives are welcome to me. I am looking for more books from this author as I write this review.

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This was such a delightful surprise!

It held a unicorn trifecta for me: it was brief, comprehensive, and novel. I literally learned things I didn't even know I didn't know with this book. Who knew that pregnancy tests prior to the 70s/80s required killing mice, rabbits, and frogs? (not me!)

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As someone who has had children and didn't particularly enjoy the process I found this book so interesting. A test (positive or negative depending on the wishes of the person taking it) can change the trajectory of your life so it was great learning about it

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I was expecting more from this book than I actually got. Although I found it every informative on the use of the test throughout the years. Also, on the use to control women. I would have liked a little more content.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to see an ARC

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This book made me appreciate pregnancy tests so much more! They are undoubtedly crucial for the freedom and rights of women and other people with uteruses!

Furthermore, the history of pregnancy tests is entertainingly weird. From mice, and rabbits to frogs, knowing whether you were pregnant included some interesting tests... (and sad)

It was very insightful and very empowering! I really recommend it if you want to learn more about pregnancy tests and how they are more important than just being convenient.

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I was really interested to read this as I have read other object lesson books and really enjoyed them. I was excited to learn about the history of pregnancy tests, (wheat, milk, rabbits, and toads?!) and how the modern tests were created and brought to market.
Beyond that, it seemed like this book was more about abortions than pregnancies and that left a bitter taste in my mouth, especially as a mother. I wouldn't have picked this up had I known, and maybe should have researched the author more beforehand. The prochoice/woke agenda is pushed throughout the book. With all of the mentions of abortion and unwanted pregnancies, I found the portions that addressed infertility lacking and honestly a bit contemptuous, which is fine, but not what I was looking for.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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A quiz: All of the following methods have, at various points in history, been put forth as accurate pregnancy tests. Which has been scientifically tested and proven to have merit?

A) A woman urinating on bags of barley, wheat, and beans to see if they sprouted (variations between 1350 BCE Egypt and 900s CE Arabic texts)

B) Pouring milk into a glass of a woman's urine and seeing if the milk floated (1200s Germany)

C) Placing an iron needle in a cup of urine and looking for the development of black spots (1500s Switzerland)

D) Mixing urine with wine and seeing if it looked as though beans had stewed in it (1600s Netherlands)

E) Injecting a Japanese Bitterling fish with urine and seeing if the fish released eggs (1930s)

See the end of this review for the answer.

I subjected several friends, and also my mother and siblings, to this quiz while reading the book, each time with the caveat that no, it doesn't have any bearing on my life just now. The time it took me to read this book easily more than doubles the amount of time that I have spent thinking about pregnancy tests over my lifetime (I've never seen one out of the packaging), but it was fascinating: part of a series of short books, Object Lessons, "Pregnancy Test" takes you through the scientific and social history of—surprise—the pregnancy test. "While the twenty-first-century home pregnancy test has become a familiar object," writes Weingarten, "it started out as an idea about reproductive autonomy and privacy, and its implications have had a greater impact on our reproductive lives than anyone could have imagined" (loc. 129).

At 160-odd pages, it's perhaps easiest to approach this as a series of long-form essays about history and social context and autonomy. Think doctors being the ones to decide whether women should be allowed to have a pregnancy test (after all, if she knows she's pregnant, she might choose an abortion); think scientists objecting to at-home tests because women couldn't be "trusted" to manage mixing a few chemicals together; think a rabbit or mouse being dissected for every laboratory pregnancy test done. I'm sorry (or—not), I'm a nerd, but this is utterly fascinating.

Much of this sounds like things of the past, but as Weingarten discusses, there are current—and pressing—implications of women being able, or not, to learn about the occupancy of their uteruses on their own terms. Again, this is a slim little book, but it's the sort of thing that should catapult you into even more reading.

Thanks to the author and publisher for providing a review copy through NetGalley. Quotes are from a review copy and may not be final.

Quiz answer: A 1963 study showed that "a pregnant woman's urine could encourage the germination of both barley and wheat" (loc. 568). Whether or not the other methods have been tested, though, is unclear, and definitely merits scientific investigation, please.

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This was such a delightful surprise!

It held a unicorn trifecta for me: it was brief, comprehensive, and novel. I literally learned things I didn't even know I didn't know with this book. Who knew that pregnancy tests prior to the 70s/80s required killing mice, rabbits, and frogs? (not me!)

I liked that this covered so many bases in such a short space. Weingarten looks at the medical and innovation side of creating a consumer product, but also the political and social effects of women being able to learn information about their bodies from the comfort of their homes. We don't think much about pregnancy tests beyond their constant use as a storytelling device in TV and film, but they really are a fascinating little invention -- imagine not being able to know if you are pregnant without going to a doctor, or having to wait weeks for confirmation of something so impactful. This really helped me appreciate that those little $10 tests exist in pretty much every store in 2023.

I ended up buying this book because it's a great little addition to my feminist books collection, and I will book looking into others in this Object Lessons series from Bloomsbury. I have my eye on the Bookshelf volume in particular. If you are a nerd for the history of random and every day objects like I am, I definitely recommend this one.

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Pregnancy Test ( Object Lessons) by Karen Weingarten.

A timely read for International Women's Day. Pregnancy Test is the latest book in the Object Lessons series published by Bloomsbury Academics in association with the Atlantic.

The Object Lessons series explores the hidden life of ordinary things and what they can teach us about ourselves and the modern world. Other titles in the series include; Pencil, Train, Blue Jeans , OK - all of the books take one thing in popular culture and educate and inform. This is the first one I have read in the series and now I want to read them all.

“ Pregnancy Test - A cultural and historical exploration of the overlooked object at the heart of the sexual revolution”

I have pee'd on literally hundreds of sticks. I'll be honest there was a decade where it could have been legitimately considered as a hobby or pastime or mine. I also have a strong interest in the politics of reproduction, I wrote essays on the medicalisation of childbirth when in college and yet, until now, I have never really given any thought to the pregnancy test. They are something that has always been readily available to me and it took reading this book to consider the power and choice such a simple piece of technology has given for decades.

At 160 pages, this book gives a detailed and informative exploration of the cultural and social impact of the pregnancy test. From its invention, marketing , growth to becoming a standard part of early pregnancy. This was a fascinating and thought provoking read about an object I have always taken for granted. The scientific elements are balanced with the social and cultural references and this was an accessible and informative read.

I love the idea behind this series of books, knowing a lot about random things intrigues me and I am looking forward to reading others in the series. A nice non fiction break in my excessive fiction reading.


** Pregnancy Test will be published tomorrow March 9th. I received an advance copy with thanks to @netgalley and the publishers @bloomsburypublishing .
As always, this is an honest review.

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Delighted to highlighted this new release in “She Said: 1 Books for International Women’s Day” for the Books section of Zoomer magazine. (see column and mini-review at link)

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