The Nickel Boys stars an African-American high schooler who seems just about perfect: smart, hard working, kind. But after accepting a ride to college in a stolen car, he is sent to a hellish reform “school” where boys, and especially African-American boys are half-starved, beaten, and abused, sometimes to death. Basing the story on an all-too-real institution, the author recreates the inexorable grinding down of a promising young man (and his cohort) at the hand of sadistic, corrupt administrators.
The book reminded me of Solitary, which tells contemporary, but just as horrifying story of racist prison abuse, with the difference that the inmates in Solitary are grown men.
The Lady in the Lake is a dead woman, but the story is not about her, but rather about the journalist who, recently separated from her husband and the life of a wealthy Jewish matron, is trying to make a name for herself while pursuing a secret affair with an African-American police officer and taking some liberties with the truth.
The story progresses through chapters written from different characters’ perspectives, including a waitress, a murderous pet-store owner, and a baseball player. Good idea, although a little tiresome over the long run. The story does seem a little over-designed to meet today’s tastes for liberated women (it’s set in the late sixties), and the ending felt entirely too contrived for my taste, but it is enjoyable most of the way through.
On Division stars a 57-year old Hassidic grandmother who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant with twins, and she is so surprised, and dismayed, that she simply cannot bring herself to mention it to her husband. Over the course of her pregnancy, she reflects on the warmth and strictures of her community, as she nurtures her children and grandchildren, mourns her dead son, and finds a new occupation and dedication as a patient advocate and translator.
I loved this story, and how the author deftly balanced the joys and the painful limitations of living in a tight-knit community.
The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz is the stunning biography of a Polish resistance fighter who let himself be imprisoned at Auschwitz to organize the resistance from within. It turns out that there is a task even more difficult than resistance in a concentration camp, and that is convincing the world that what is happening inside the camp is really happening, and could be stopped without too much difficulty. An amazing story that elevates itself from a recitation of facts.
The author of Underland: A Deep Time Journey explores caves, quarries, the Paris catacombs, abandoned mines, storage caverns for nuclear waste, sinkholes, and more, some with legit guides and others not so much. He’s interested in prehistoric art, the health of the ice cap, war crimes, and plant mutualism. The book strongly reminded me of Being a Beast for its maverick feel and ability to describe the feelings of being in very odd places.
The author of Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, a cardiologist, is endlessly optimistic about how AI can not only help reach diagnoses that elude us today, but also help physicians spend more time, and more meaningful time, with patients. After reading the book, I’m skeptical about the latter claim (not that it’s not true; it’s not very much discussed in the book), but convinced about the former. Whether it’s patient-specific nutrition, mining electronic records, reading ECGs, or interpreting routine imaging, machines are just better at it than humans, and certainly better than tired or distracted humans who may fail to engage their deep troubleshooting skills. Let’s hope that medical schools can produce physicians who will deploy the empathy patients (including the author, when he is a patient) crave for, in addition to the wonderful diagnosing technology that is being developed.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee stars a pastor who killed several of his wives and family members for the life insurance money from policies he had thoughtfully purchased shortly before their deaths–and Harper Lee, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, who studied the trial of his murderer, a relative of one of the many victims. The book tries to blend the stories of the murders, a biography of Harper Lee, and the transcripts of the trial (since Harper Lee ultimately decided that she could not write a proper book from it)– and fails. There’s simply no good connection to be made. Too bad. That murderous pastor sounds quite intriguing.