Monthly Archives: November 2017

*** Drunks by Christopher Finan

Alcoholics have always been with us, but the author of Drunks: An American History reminds us that early America saw alcoholism as a moral failure, while we tend to classify it as a disease, one that’s similar to diabetes or hypertension both in its origin and its resistance to treatment. Along the way, we meet Native Americans early abstainers, physicians with doubtful and lucrative cures, prohibitionists, and of course AA.  I found the history fascinating.

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Filed under Non fiction

* Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne

A homicidal migrant. A spoiled adult daughter who can’t quite figure out that she is not owed anything by her parents. A rich couple who seems very bored and very angry with each other. An underpaid maid who will gladly be bribed, no questions asked. Would you like to meet any of those hollow characters? Then pick up Beautiful Animals.

 

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Filed under New fiction

** The Influential Mind by Tali Sharot

Written by an academic, The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others explores sometimes counter-intuitive studies that show that our peculiar, not-so-rational minds can be influenced by the right stories or by the emotions of others (rather than rational statistics), while we knowingly ignore information that does not conform to our preconceived ideas, We also prefer being in control (even when letting someone else make decisions for us would be preferable), and we want to get information early but if it’s likely to be bad, we withdraw instead.

I would have wished to see a bit more connective tissue between the various chapters, and connecting the results to practical actions, but it’s an enjoyable read.

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** The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

The Ninth Hour tells the life of a woman born in Brooklyn in the early 20th Century after her father committed suicide and her mother came to work at a convent, on charity and under the protection of a formidable nun.

I found that the story sometimes veered towards awkwardly anachronistic feminism, and sometimes the other way, extolling the never-failing sanctity of the nuns, but the ending is certainly unexpected (a murder!) and it’s useful to remember how nuns served as social workers and nurses at a time when other help just was not available.

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Filed under New fiction

** Admissions by Henry Marsh

Following Do No HarmAdmissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon revisits some of the same materials, but, written from the perspective of recent retirement, explores more sweeping themes, some reprising the familiar rants against poor hospital administration and others new, such as his view on training new surgeons. The author continues to display deep emotion for this work and his patient, which is very heartwarming — and at the same time he is not afraid to share episodes of his wicked temper.

The narrative meanders occasionally, too much to my taste but it’s much better than any gripping hospital drama.

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Filed under Non fiction

**1/2 Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

I still love the Grafton series, and I still love Kinsey Millhone stories, and about half of Y is for Yesterday is written from her perspective. The other half is the story of a group of spoiled, idle, and cruel teenagers who will eventually commit murder, the consequences of which she is asked to investigate. And it’s a big ask fo readers to have to wade through extensive dialog between said spoiled, idle, and cruel teenagers — and the sophistication is not much increased when they age by 10 years, either.

So a wonderfully complex intrigue (plus the resolution of the intrigue described in X), the usual blunt style of Ms. Millhone, but too many pages of silly teenage drama.

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Filed under Mystery

*** This Is Your Brain On Parasites by Kathleen McAuliffe

This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society is not for the faint of heart, as the author muses about hens preferring to eat parasite-infected crickets (because they are slower), the dengue fever virus that enhances its mosquito carrier’s ability to detect the scent of humans, or rat parasites that cause male rats to somehow be more successful with the ladies… After reading of those adventures, you may want to wash your hands more often and avoid anything that looks unsafe, including fellow humans — and indeed animals and humans have developed all kinds of techniques to fight against parasites. The scariest and darkest part of the book is that perhaps these very techniques suggest that it’s the parasites who control us, rather than the other way round. Fascinating.

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Filed under Non fiction