*** The Danger Within Us by Jeanne Lenzer

The power of the FDA to regulate drugs is regularly touted as the reason why Americans are so well protected against dangerous drugs (although it also creates worrisome delays in approving new drugs) — but the author  of  The Danger Within Us: America’s Untested, Unregulated Medical Device Industry and One Man’s Battle to Survive It points out that, when it comes to medical devices, including implantable devices, the regulations are astonishingly lax: cursory trials with deplorable designs and imaginative statistical analyses are sufficient, and manufacturers take full advantage of rubber-stamp approvals for “upgrades” to push through all kinds of new devices… And this has a cost to patients, all the more since reporting on adverse effects is slow, systematically impeded by vendors — and to my mind in great need of a good knowledge management specialist.

The author gives a series of solutions in the last chapters, but she seems to think that nothing less than a full reform of the healthcare system in America will help. Since I doubt this will happen anytime soon, I hope that more pragmatic, short-erm fixes can be established. (Why would it be so hard to dictate a small number of guidelines for acceptable risk studies, for instance?)

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*** Happiness is a Choice You Make by John Leland

The author of Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old spent a year interviewing people over 85 in New York City and features six of them in this book, interspersed with relevant statistics. He also tries hard to get each interviewee to share their wisdom, which seems to be less successful than just telling their stories, and I rather applauded the individuals who refused to play.

What I liked best in the book how diverse and unique his elders are. (And why should we be surprised? Old folks are just like us, except, well, old!) He also does a great job of showing how they navigate the obvious physical, mental, and financial obstacles they face in creative and satisfying ways. It’s an inspiring book even if several of the elders are no longer with us.

 

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*** Persons Unknown by Manon Bradshaw

Manon Bradshaw returns in Persons Unknown, in theory confined to cold cases but caught in a murder mystery because her adopted son is a prime suspect, and she must get him out of the youth home where he is utterly miserable. The murder ends up being an incredibly complicated international intrigue, but the family connections to it are complicated and dark. A wonderful portrait of a working mom.

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* Skin In the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I once worked with a man who was very bright, but also very arrogant and aggressive, never skipping an occasion to berate anyone he deemed to be less intelligent than him (almost everyone!) or having the gall to hold an opinion other than his own. Satisfyingly, he stopped shouting at people who fought back, which I did, often, but it was a thoroughly disagreeable experience.

The author of Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life reminds me of that man, and this book matches his previous book, Antifragile, in the hatred department. (Do read The Black Swan, which has all the smarts without the hatred.) In it, he rages against politicians, academics, bureaucrats, pundits, designers, intellectuals of all sorts, and hints broadly that no one is worthy of reading his book since we are too stupid to understand it. How he reminds me of my co-worker…

If you can get past the hatred, he makes some good points, namely that people who do not have skin in the game can and do make decisions the consequences of which won’t hurt them — so beware! Very true. How many times have you sat in an uncomfortable seat and wondered if the designer had sat in it for more than a minute? Or wondered what crazed bureaucrat created the horrible paperwork you are struggling with? He also excoriates (I think that’s his default setting, excoriation) people who give money publicly to charity as a way to gain notoriety, a position we can agree with, minus the vituperation perhaps. And he points out that a vocal small minority can hold everyone hostage to its views. But is it worth 200+ pages of rage?

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** The Temptation of Forgiveness by Donna Leon

Fancy a trip to Venice? The Temptation of Forgiveness gives the reader a reasonably satisfying plot with lots of local color — so much that the book is more a travelogue than a mystery. It’s the 27th installment in the series, so past readers must have enjoyed the trips very much! Beyond the Venetian stories, the scenario is quite basic, but with complex main characters who generously share their musings about their private concerns.

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* The Queen of Hearts by Kimberly Martin

If you enjoy romance novels with a dash of professional women (in this case, physicians), you may enjoy The Queen of Hearts, which stars two friends who had a chaotic affair in medical school that comes back to haunt them. The book alternates between grisly and detailed descriptions of patient intubations and the silly botched romance. I am not a fan.

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** The Nature Fix by Florence Williams

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative wants to convince us that contact with nature makes us better people. The journalist-author takes us on adventures around the world to prove her case, and it’s not difficult to believe that silence, calm, and beautiful vistas help make us calmer and happier. What’s not so easy to show is how to incorporate more nature in increasingly urban lives. We can only hope that city planners take heed of the benefits of squeezing in as much nature as possible into their designs.

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