Showing 211 - 220 of 667 Nonfiction annotations

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Triggered in part by a trip to the Galápagos Islands, the author interweaves two parallel narratives: Darwin's "journey toward evolution" along with the related work of Alfred Russel Wallace; and the author's own journey through life, partially disabled and dependent on the specially fitted shoes that help him to walk.  Together these two narratives develop "all I have come to understand about chance and change, fear and transformation, variation and cultural context, ideas about the body that question the definition and existence of difference in all of our lives" (xvii).

Born with an unnamed congenital condition in which his fibulae are absent along with other lower limb "abnormalities," Fries underwent five major reconstructive surgeries as a child, but after those, what helped him most were special shoes that were fitted to his special body, assisting him to walk.  As an adult, however, he begins to experience back pain and knee problems.  The memoir relates, both in flashback, and in the present day, Fries's quest for a proper pair of shoes that will help him avoid yet another surgery -- the shoes he has been wearing are 20 years old and no longer do the job.  We meet Dr. Mendotti, who treated him like a peculiar specimen and offered a pharmacologic way out of his pain; shoemaker Eneslow, in a dingy Union Square office, whose shoes not only fit Fries well, but were festive in appearance -- "I felt both normal and special" (17); other practitioners of orthotics who try but fail to construct shoes that relieve Fries's pain, and finally, the gifted, patient orthoticist, Tom Coburn, who persists until he is able to provide shoes that work.  The shoes have been adapted for Fries's body, just as man has constructed adaptations that allow him to live in a variety of climates and circumstances.  Conversely, Fries, convinced he "can adapt to the circumstances in which my body places me (169)," draws from Darwin, whom he quotes: "individual differences are highly important for us, as they afford materials for natural selection to accumulate" (169).
 
Darwinian connections are invoked throughout the narrative.  The peculiar configuration of Fries's feet and shoes help him to ascend a series of mountain ladders while his partner, Ian -- who usually has to assist Fries with such physical maneuvers -- suddenly becomes fearful of the height and exposure;  back problems might have developed even without his congenital abnormalities because evolution of the capacity to walk upright included the tendency toward back pain; the role of chance in natural selection and the role of chance in the physical fact of congenital conditions; the positive role that his partner Ian's attention deficit disorder (ADD) could have played in the days of hunter-gatherers and the cultural context in which ADD is now considered to be "abnormal."
 
Fries discusses his fears -- both rational and irrational -- as well as his awareness of stigma, difference, and sameness.  The context of these discussions is usually a reminiscence about vacations in far-flung countries (Thailand, the Galápagos, Bali, Alaska, the Canadian Rockies) and physically challenging domestic locales (a Colorado River raft trip, the Beehive Mountain in Acadia National Park).  He  occasionally brings into the discussion his homosexuality, especially as his physical deformity affected sexual encounters.  The relationship between Fries and Ian is woven throughout the memoir as one of understanding, mutual need and benefit.  As the memoir ends, Fries worries about the likelihood he will need a wheelchair, but is at the same time gathering confidence in his ability to ride the Easy Flyer bicycle that Ian has discovered at the local bike shop.

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

At the request of a German editor, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) began his autobiography at the age of 67. His granddaughter and editor, Nora Barlow, tells us that he revised it over several years.

Darwin remembers little about his mother who died when he was 8, but talks at length about his forceful physician father, who measured 6 foot 2 inches, and weighed over 336 pounds. His father's success guaranteed that Charles would never have to work for a living. Darwin was a naughty boy schooled in humaneness and manners by his loving sisters. Early on, he showed a passion for collecting, mostly beetles, but also coins, shells, and minerals. He hated boarding school; he enjoyed running in the open air and shooting snipes with his dogs. He quotes his father's characterization of him as a young boy: "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family" (28).

As a medical student at Edinburgh University, he witnessed operations without anesthesia which caused him to revolt against his father's wish that he become a doctor; he couldn't take the sight of blood.  At Cambridge, he found most of his classes and professors dull, except for his botany professor, John Stevens Henslow, his mentor and hiking companion. The paternal plan for him to become a clergyman foundered at Cambridge, as Darwin questioned the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England.

From 1831, he sailed with Capt. Fitz-Roy on board  The Beagle for 5 years and 3 days (again, against his father's wishes). He quarrelled with  Fitz-Roy whose mood swings required Darwin's tact. They disagreed about slavery, FitzRoy defending it, and Darwin abominating it. He carried Lyell's Principles of Geology with him, read Milton, and collected numerous specimens which he sent back to Britain.

28 months after his return, Darwin married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood. The marriage was happy and produced 10 children.

In the chapter on his religious beliefs, Darwin gives 4 reasons for believing the Old Testament to be false; as he has studied the laws of nature, he has ceased to believe in miracles. He rejects Bishop Paley's argument for intelligent design: "Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws" (87). The Christian god is cruel, as he causes innocent animals to suffer and condemns non-believers to hell. Darwin confesses he does not understand "the mystery of the beginning of all things" (94), calling himself an agnostic. He outlines the great Victorian men he has known, though his ill health has long  prevented him from traveling or seeing friends. He discusses his publications, including Origin of Species, stating he did not care whether he or Wallace got the credit for the theory of evolution. He attributes his success to his moderate abilities. He has been methodical, industrious, and commonsensical.

The appendix includes Darwin's list of pro and con arguments about marriage, Mrs. Darwin's papers on religion, and a short chapter on his illnesses.

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Summary:

John Romulus (also known as Richard) Brinkley was a physician (in the diploma-mill sense of the word) who, in 1917, pioneered, in the U.S. at least, the notion of goat testicle transplant. "Transplant" must be understood in the loosest sense of the word since Brinkley simply removed the testicles from young goats and sewed them into the abdominal wall and scrotal tissues - without any attempt to connect blood or nervous tissues of either goat testicles or human  - of men for the alleged purpose of relieving impotence. From 1917 until his downfall at the hands of Morris Fishbein, a medical crusader esconced in the AMA, which organization Dr. Fishbein helped establish as the premier advocate of organized medicine in the U.S., Dr. Brinkley was perhaps the most recognizable physician in the U.S.

He ran for the office of Governor of Kansas in 1930 (losing by technicalities that today would have overturned the results), and established the most powerful radio station in the land, XERA, that promulgated his glandular chicanery all across the continental U.S. As a proponent of such skullduggery, Brinkley was continually in the sights of Dr. Fishbein, whose main reputation nationally was as an exposer of medical fakery. Eventually Fishbein lured Brinkley into a libel trial that resulted, in 1939, in the catastrophic downfall of an immensely talented and wealthy man who spiraled into bankruptcy and death in 3 short years.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Author Jennifer Culkin has been involved, for all of her nursing career, in high stakes, heart stopping, instant-decision-making areas of critical care.  After years working in Neonatal Intensive Care, she became a flight nurse--and giving intensive care to trauma victims while trying to maintain balance and sterile technique in a wind-buffeted helicopter has to be one of the most difficult tasks a nurse might undertake.  Her memoir, A Final Arc of Sky, opens with such a scene.  The patient, Doug, is soon crashing, and the nursing team, Jennifer and her partner, have to make a series of tough decisions (pp. 8-12).  From this scene on, the action rarely wavers.  And although Culkin keeps the pace moving, she is not always, or even most often, telling us about similar traumas.  She deftly weaves her personal narrative--husband and sons and dying parents--in and out of scenes from her nursing career, braiding the plot lines of her life in chapters both moving and compelling. 

In those chapters that deal with the often dangerous helicopter transports Culkin has flown, we learn (and we feel) just what it's like to be a flight nurse crammed in-between patient and helicopter door, juggling instruments that too often slip to the floor and trying to save patients that too often want to die.  In those pages that deal with family, we are privy to Culkin's internal debate about how to separate family from nursing (what she calls "the great neuronal divide between my work and my life" (p.136), and we see that she sometimes doesn't have much energy left at the end of the day to draw close to those she loves.  Part of what makes this memoir difficult to put down is the persona of the narrator herself: Culkin comes across as an honest, often irreverent risk taker, a woman who likes to ride her bike down dangerous hills at breakneck speed and allows her son to do the same (see chapter six, p. 57); a woman who loves the dangerous drama of flight nursing and doesn't worry about crashing (p. 80)--in fact she enjoys strapping herself "into the eye of a maelstrom" (p. 80). 

This memoir entertains, and it provides a glimpse into how some caregivers not only risk their lives to save the lives of others but also shoulder the responsibility of making split second decisions upon which a patient's life might depend.  And there is a surprise in this memoir, one that I can't too fully divulge because to do so would be to rob potential readers of their own discovery.  Suffice it to say that near the end, Culkin reveals something about her own health, an illness she has fought against in every chapter.  When we learn the details of her own illness narrative, we look again, with new understanding, at her fascinating career and her interactions with her loved ones.   

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this candid chronicle of what many would call a prolonged depression occasioned in part by her husband's illness and death, Norris, a popular memoirist and essayist, seeks carefully to distinguish the psychological or psycho-medical category of "depression" from the spiritual state of "acedia" or, more bluntly, "sloth," in its oldest and most precise sense.  In doing so she raises important questions about widespread and often imprecise use of categories derived from clinical psychology, an imprecision that may muddy the distinction between spiritual and psychopathological experience.

"Acedia" she defines as a failure of will, signifying a need for spiritual guidance and prayer, whereas "depression" requires medical treatment.  Going beyond the confessional, Norris suggests that acedia may be an endemic condition among middle-class Americans, over-busy but spiritually slothful.  The book is loosely organized, often characteristically lyrical, and more invitational than diagnostic.  Her purpose, finally, seems to be to inspire readers to embrace simple life-giving spiritual disciplines like reading the Psalms as a stay against excessive self-preoccupation and actual depression as well as spiritual depletion.  

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Testifying to its author's "fascination with death" (324), this scholarly and abundantly illustrated work focuses on the history of the American idea of the Good Death as this concept took shape during the Civil War. Frederic Law Olmstead used the phrase "republic of suffering" to describe the many wounded and dying soldiers being treated at Union hospital ships on the Virginia Peninsula. Faust argues that the task of dealing with more than half a million dead during the War motivated Americans in the North and South to discover cultural and physical measures of interpreting and coping with the suffering and loss that occurred in thousands of families.

The scale of this War was unprecedented due to rifles and railroads; however, Gilpin Faust reminds us that twice as many soldiers died of disease as died of wounds suffered in the conflict. The illnesses were epidemics of measles, mumps and smallpox, then diarrhea and dysentery, typhoid and malaria. Medical care was inadequate; consequently, soldiers and their families turned to spiritual consolation. The Good Death was identified as sacrificing your life for the cause; many  believed in the Christian idea of resurrection and the afterlife. Killing became work,  as African American soldiers fought for "God, race and country" (53), where  Southerners fought to preserve the status quo, including slavery.

Because of the War, public cemeteries and ceremonies, and government's identifying and counting the dead are now taken for granted. Because of the Civil War, bodies of the dead military are today brought back from foreign lands and honored with decent burial: "We still seek to use our deaths to create meaning where we are not sure any exists" (271).

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Body Language

Studer, Constance

Last Updated: Mar-10-2009
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Body Language, a beautifully crafted and expansive memoir by retired nurse Constance Studer, spans a range of issues within the narrative of the author's life: a childhood marred by a medical procedure--a hasty frontal lobotomy that left her father incarcerated in a mental institute-- and, in later years, by her own illness, one caused by the Hepatitis B vaccine.  These two events are the bookends that frame Body Language, a memoir that examines family life, nursing, medicine, medical ethics, personal survival and illness in language that is poetic and compelling.  Studer, a writer as well as a nurse, intersperses her own story--which is novel-like in its intensity--with literary allusions, research material and knowledge culled from her years as a nurse in Intensive Care.  In her memoir, she writes not only with the authority of one who has been on both sides of the bed, as professional caregiver and as suffering patient, but also as a family member who has witnessed how unwise and unchallenged medical decisions might affect generations. 

What I especially admire about this memoir is that it is not simply a "telling about."  Instead Studer brings us into the action of the narrative, for example giving us imagery and dialogue as her father prepares for the surgery that he doesn't know will deprive him of memory and sense ("Holy Socks" p. 21).  She also intertwines many narrative strands, giving us the fullness of her family history and her professional adventures, so that when we reach the narrative of her own illness we have a sense of a life, a full life, that has been forever altered.

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Summary:

This survey of the history of women in medicine begins in the mid 19th century and moves forward to the late 20th Century.  The twelve historical studies are divided by the editors into three sections, largely chronological.  The first section focuses on the 19th century women best known for their breakthrough into the male bastion of regular medicine in America.  There is, in addition to the more traditional studies, a look at the role of a Chinese woman physician in Progressive Era Chicago.  Section two takes the reader into the early 20th century Womens' Health Movement, including a fresh look at the narrative forms of Our Bodies, Ourselves.  Section three examines the mid-late 20th century position of women in American medicine and an interesting discourse on the impact of Western women physicians on issues of childbearing in Asia during the early part of the same century.

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Bioethics at the Movies

Shapshay, S., ed.

Last Updated: Feb-20-2009
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

Intended to "spark a philosophical dialogue among readers and in classrooms, clarifying, refining, and challenging the ethical positions people hold on a great many bioethical topics"(1), Bioethics at the Movies contains 21 essays discussing bioethical issues, from abortion and cloning to disability narratives and end-of-life care, in relation to various films. The two dozen authors come from the United States, Spain, Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom, and the majority have their academic homes in Departments of Philosophy. For the most part, the essays use one particular film as a springboard to discuss a bioethical topic, such as terminating pregnancies (The Cider House Rules), marketing organs (Dirty Pretty Things), and memory deletion (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Two films get a pair of essays (Gattaca and Million Dollar Baby), and several authors cover more than one film. In addition to the aforementioned films, Wit, Citizen Ruth, Bicentennial Man, I, Robot, Babe, Multiplicity, Star Trek: Nemesis, Ghost in the Shell, Dad, Critical Care, Big Fish, Soylent Green, Extreme Measures, Talk to Her, and Ikiru are closely covered.

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Originally delivered as a ten-hour lecture at a conference and subsequently partly published in various forms, The Animal That Therefore I Am has been collected in this one volume, also including a transcription of Derrida's extempore lecture, delivered at the end of the symposium, on the 'animal' and Heidegger. The Animal That Therefore I Am is a sustained meditation on the role of the 'animal' in philosophy.  Derrida questions the logic, the ethics, and the rhetorical and philosophical effects of establishing (or assuming) a boundary that seems to distinguish so clearly, so finally, and so permanently the human from the animal.

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