Showing 101 - 110 of 667 Nonfiction annotations
Summary:This remarkable memoir/natural history chronicles the author's observation of a snail that occupies the flower pot at her bedside during a long immobilization due to chronic fatigue syndrome. For months of relative isolation, she observes the habits of the snail and begins to research the lives, habits, species, and idiosyncrasies of snails by way of getting to know this one in greater specificity. As she puts it, "When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound...," (p. 5) and her mind certainly does. Peering into poetry and story as well as biology, she discovers both facts and lore about the lives of snails to complement her intimate curiosity about the life of this snail. Along the way, and very much by the way, she reflects on the nature of her own complex illness, the likely brevity of life she has now to expect, and how to learn from another species how to live in time differently.
Summary:Where many writers about illness have raised questions about the widespread and often unexamined appropriation of military metaphors to describe how doctors and patients have "struggled with," "combatted," "fought," or "defeated" illness, Dreuilhe embraces it and plays it out to the far reaches of its logic. Part of the brilliance of this AIDS narrative lies in the way it brings new dimensions of meaning to a metaphor that has become so conventional as to be cliché or so imbedded in the language of illness and treatment, it simply fails to be recognized as metaphor. Beginning with the "simple skirmishes at the frontier garrisons," Dreuilhe chronicles the progression of his own illness with the sharp eye of a good war reporter who sees through the chaos of the battlefield to the strategies being played out. "Whenever I take an experimental drug," Dreulhe writes, "—and people fight desperately to be among those privileged to risk their lives—I feel as though I belong to a unit of shock troops parachuted behind enemy lines: already written off as a casualty, I'm entrusted with the task of spearheading the advance."
Summary:Parts of medical history read like detective novels. The discovery of the source of cholera by Dr. John Snow in London in 1854 is one of those episodes. The Ghost Map tells the story of Snow's pioneering work in what have now become standard epidemiological methods. Tracing a cholera outbreak to a local pump in a poor section of London involved many door-to-door visits working with people who weren't always cooperative, incurring the suspicion and/or ridicule of both them and the medical professionals with whom he worked. In the course of the story the author offers reflections on the organization of cities and on public hygiene. Snow, an out-of-the-box thinker, also helped develop surgical anesthesia.
Summary:In Illness as Narrative, Ann Jurecic thoughtfully examines the unruly questions that personal accounts of illness pose to literary studies: What is the role of criticism in responding to literature about suffering? Does the shared vulnerability of living in a body, which stories of illness intimately expose, justify empathic readings? What is the place of skepticism in responding to stories of suffering? Does whether or how we read illness narratives matter? Jurecic's questions entice discussion at an interesting cultural moment. The numbers of memoirs and essays about illness—and their inclusion in medical school and other humanities courses—multiplied from the later decades of the 20th century to the present. However, their increase, and their potential to encourage empathic readings, coincided with dominant literary theories that advocated vigorously skeptical, error-seeking responses to texts and their authors. Jurecic reminds us that Paul Ricoeur called such responses "the hermeneutics of suspicion" (3).
Summary:Margaret Price, a university professor with expertise in disability studies and rhetoric, alerts us to rhetorical and institutional strategies that marginalize or exclude from academic life people regarded as mentally disabled. Her term "mental disability" subsumes an array of cognitive and psychological conditions--autism, attention deficit disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulties processing spoken language or speaking in a group, among others--that are generally identified as falling outside definitions of normative cognitive or psychological functioning. Whether a student or a teacher, manifesting such conditions can label one unfit for school. Price asks us (1) to consider whether such conditions rightly disqualify one from academic life, (2) to question the validity of some assumed criteria for academic success, and (3) to design institutional infrastructures that accommodate neurodiversity.
Summary:The writer Donald Hall gives us a lyrical armchair view through the windows of his house not only of the New Hampshire landscape, but also of his and his anscestors lives lived in that landscape. His honest and moving account from his 83rd year is captured in the following: "I feel the circles grow smaller, and old age is a ceremony of losses, which is on the whole preferable to dying at forty-seven or fifty-two [the ages his wife Jane Kenyon died and his father died]. When I lament and darken over my diminishments, I accomplish nothing. It's better to sit at the window all day, pleased to watch the birds, barns, and flowers. It is a pleasure to write about what I do" (p.41).
Summary:Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA is the biography of the scientist whose research James Watson and Francis Crick needed to elucidate the structure of the DNA molecule. Even though the discovery has had profound implications for modern medicine, Franklin's contribution to it almost remained obscure.
Summary:Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, chronicled the overlap of two catastrophes: the critical illness of her adopted daughter Quintana Roo and the sudden death of her husband of forty years, John Dunne. Between the writing of that memoir and its publication in 2005, Quintana died at age 39. She had suffered a 20 month illness which started as a flu, advanced to pneumonia and sepsis, with intracranial hemorrhage and other complications necessitating 5 surgeries and extended intensive care unit stays. Blue Nights is a meditation on Quintana, and her mother's consuming sense of loss over the tragedy of her only child.
This is a huge and wonderful book about cancer, the collection of diseases that sickens people all over the globe and kills many of them. An epigraph to the book states, “A quarter of all American deaths, and about 15 percent of all deaths worldwide, will be attributed to cancer,” but the book also describes medical advances that now heal, prevent, or palliate most forms of cancer.
Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, has several strong themes. He sees cancer as an affliction with a long history, a story worthy of a biography; indeed recent discoveries show it to be rooted in our genes (although external factors such as viruses, asbestos, and tobacco smoke can cause genetic disruption). The story of cancer implies a surrounding triangle, the stories of sick people, treating physicians, and biological researchers, all of which Mukherjee artfully weaves across 472 pages. Cancer has Rohrschach blot qualities: depending on time, place, and role in life, humans have perceived different attributes of cancer. As the book ends, however, there is a coalescence of scientific understanding that is satisfying—although there is certainly more to be learned and we are all still vulnerable to genetic errors and, of course, we are intractably mortal.
Another strand is the nature of stories themselves, their twists and turns, presumed early solutions, and personal and social values embedded in them. Mukherjee threads throughout the book the case of a contemporary kindergarten teacher, Carla Reed, who has a leukemia. He bookends his text with ancient Persian Queen Atossa with (presumably) breast cancer. Reed, healed by the end of the book, was Mukherjee’s patient; Atossa was described by Herodotus: both suffered emotional turmoil because of their disease. Mukherjee understands the affective dimensions of disease for patients and caregivers alike; literature represents these in various ways, and he quotes in his chapter epigraphs and in his prose many writers who describe human experience deeply: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Susan Sontag, Charles Dickens, Thomas Mann, William Carlos Williams, Carlo Levi, and Italo Calvino, to name a few.
The primary story, however, is the interplay of cancer and a large cast of observers, investigators, doctors, scientists, activists, and government officials. Sidney Farber and Mary Lasker dominate the first 100 pages with their two-decade war against cancer. While surgery—historically dramatic and disfiguring—had been a mainstay for treatment of cancer, Farber pursued a biochemical route, which elaborated into chemotherapy, the second major approach of the late 20th century.
Mukherjee also explains ancient views, Hippocrates’, Galen’s humors, Vasealius’ anatomy, Hunter’s stages, Lister’s antisepsis, and Röntgen’s X-rays, which became the third major approach. By 1980, however, the American “War on Cancer” had not been won.
Further advances in cellular biology and genetics would be needed to make targeted molecular therapy possible. Mukherjee tells this complicated story clearly and engagingly, showing the human investigators to be personable and dogged in their pursuits.
Another important approach is prevention. The biostatistical work of Doll and Hill, for example, showed the links between tobacco and lung cancer. Screening, such as Pap smears and mammograms, also saved lives, but the basic cellular understanding still eluded investigators.
The final 150 pages explain the search for and discovery of genetic factors, specifically oncogenes. Harold Varmus and J. Michael Bishop were the leaders, winning a Nobel Prize in 1989. Bert Vogelstein, Judah Folkman, Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan took the work further, opening the doors for such drugs as Herceptin, Gleevec, and Avastin.
Summary:Candice Millard portrays several figures in the 19th century whose lives came together to change history: newly-elected President of the U.S. James Garfield; the insane would-be assassin Charles Guiteau; Doctor Bliss, the arrogant physician who claimed control of Garfield's care; Alexander Graham Bell, who invented a device to find the bullet; and major political figures of the time. Ironically, Garfield attended the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 where Joseph Lister was displaying his germ theory of infection and Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his telephone. But when Guiteau shot Garfield in 1881, the bullets did not kill him. What killed him after months of suffering was the massive infections caused by the doctors' probing without clean hands or clean instruments. At the autopsy, the doctors saw evidence of massive infections, but the bullet was encysted and harmless. All the probing by the doctors created a tunnel, but it was not the path of the bullet. "Gentlemen, we have made a mistake," said the doctor.