Tag Archives: medicine

** Fat Nation by Jonathan Engel

Fat Nation: A History of Obesity in America recounts the rise of obesity since after WWII, relating it to city planning, the availability of fast food and processed food, and the disappearance of family meals. The author is a professor of health policy so is able to speak calmly about the topic, and he tries, bravely, to suggest some solutions. Will we all start eating spinach and walk everywhere?

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** The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth by Thomas Morris

If you are squeamish, you may want to avoid The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth: And Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine, as the author has researched massive amounts of medical archives to unearth the most appalling stories of barbaric cures, gullible physicians, and unlikely misadventures.

Whatever you think of the current state of medicine, it used to be much, much worse!

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*** The Breakthrough by Charles Graeber

The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer explores the exciting progress made in using our own immune system to fight cancer, and, so doing, explains how cancerous cells cleverly evade our immune defenses.

It would be easy to paint a triumphant picture, when in fact progress has been made only for very specific types of cancer, and the author wisely avoids hyperbole while conveying the power of the techniques being developed. Very accessible reading for non-specialists.

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* How To Be Loved by Eva Hagberg Fisher

 

There’s a lot of sickness but, surprising to me considering the subtitle, not a lot of friendship in How to Be Loved: A Memoir of Lifesaving Friendship, as much of the description was of the horrendous ordeal the author had to suffer, starting with a brain tumor and ending with an allergy to, well, everything!

If you want to remind yourself that being sick is horrible, this is the book for you. If you have not quite grasped that the US health system is not working so well, ditto. For me, no thanks.

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*** Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

I’ve lost count of how many memoirs Dani Shapiro has written, but I know it’s a terrifying number already (and I liked some, not all). Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love is the sign of things to come, I imagine, as it springs from her chance encounter with an unexpected first cousin after she had submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.

Her father is not her biological father, and although she quickly identifies who is, she needs to know how it all happened (very decorously, by the way, following the now strange logic of early artificial insemination programs). She takes us with her as she navigates websites, her crumbling relationship with the woman she thought was her half-sister, her tentative contacts with her biological family and, very deliciously and kindly, the loving support she gets from her husband and son. (Her teenage son provides the most hilarious moment in the book, when he happily surmises that his new grandfather may well give him the gift of a full head of hair!)

A great reminder that family secrets can cause a lot of pain, even when the outcome is pretty good, as it is here.

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*** Nine Pints by Rose George

I love Rose George’s books, whether about shipping or toiletsNine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood did not disappoint. In it, she pays homage to a plucky , elderly British aristocrat who drove blood to English hospitals during WWII, and Janet Vaughan, who set up the UK’s blood donation system that needed such aristocrat to drive. She also visits a leech-breeding plants and explains how leeches take a year (!) to digest a meal, expounds against the evils of paying for blood, visits an Indian entrepreneur who is reinventing the sanitary pad for low-income countries, and explains how Facebook-found “blessers” infect young women with HIV in South Africa.

That’s a lot. And it’s a lot of fun, leeches and all.

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* The Trials of Nina McCall by Scott Stern

Starting during WWI, the US government, under the Orwellian name of “The American Plan” started to stalk and forcibly detain women to subject them to often brutal medical exams and equally brutal and ineffective medical treatment for STI.  The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women takes as its starting point one of these women and follows the lawsuit she brought against the government (she lost!), and meanders its way, slowly and methodically, thought WWII. While that treatment of women is shocking and well worth publicizing, I would have preferred a Cliff version of the events. (Yes, trial transcripts are incredibly boring.)

 

P.S. There’s hope. Tomorrow’s book is one I liked very much. Bad series this week!

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