Showing 381 - 390 of 740 Nonfiction annotations

Angela's Ashes

McCourt, Frank

Last Updated: Dec-01-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This absorbing, sad, humorous evocation of an impoverished Irish Catholic childhood describes the first nineteen years of Frank McCourt’s life--from his birth in Brooklyn, New York; through the family’s emigration four years later to his mother’s roots in the slums of Limerick, Ireland--and ends with McCourt’s return migration to America, a young man on his own. McCourt sets the scene in his first lines: "When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. . . the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters . . . . "

Born during the Great Depression, the author leads us in lilting present-tense narrative through the struggle and occasional small joys of daily life with siblings, school friends, and the adults who circumscribe his life. He is an alien in his parental homeland, the oldest child of a father whose background in "the North" engenders continual suspicion, and a mother (Angela of the book’s title) who had never known her father and whose own mother is as miserly with her affections as with offers of economic assistance.

The hardships in Limerick are so profound that starvation is a way of life. "Consumption," pneumonia, and typhoid are rampant; children go to school barefoot or in pieces of flopping rubber; stealing is a necessity. Frank’s tiny sister and twin brothers die. Above all, there is "the drink"--the endemic disease of Irish fathers who spend their weeks’ wages in the pub on Friday night.

Frank leaves school to earn money for the family (his father had joined the war-time wave of work in England, but continued to drink his earnings away), and to save for a return to America. Blessed with verbal skills and stamina, through stealth, charm and struggle he manages to save what is needed to book ship’s passage to America. As the Hudson River flows by en route to Albany, the ship’s Wireless Officer says to Frank, "My God, . . . isn’t this a great country altogether?" Answers Frank in the single phrase comprising the last chapter, " ’T. is."

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The text explores the experiences of a nurse practitioner in an inner city OB-GYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology) clinic and four of her women patients, from a fifteen-year-old homeless pregnant child to a mature woman struggling with cancer. Another of her patients is pregnant and drug addicted; a fourth suffers from pains that come from buried memories of sexual abuse. The stories of all four patients weave in and out of the narrator's own stories about herself, her own health and illness experiences, her own respectful appreciation of the female body.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Couser, long interested in autobiography, explores the ethics of representation in biographical writing, and in particular, the ethics of representing vulnerable subjects--for example, the aged or very young, the sick or impaired, or those who are "socially or culturally disadvantaged." He is concerned with representation of people who are intimately connected to the biographer, either as family members, or in some other "trust-based relationship." Couser argues that the relationship between vulnerable subjects and their biographers is analogous to that between patients and their physicians and that therefore principles of bioethics should be applied to such life writing, especially the principles of autonomy, nonmaleficence, and beneficence.

Couser explores life writing and betrayal (Chapter 1), outlines how he will apply the principles of biomedical ethics and ethnographical ethics to life writing (Chapter 2), and applies these principles to examples of collaborative autobiography (Chapter 3). He then critiques in detail Michael Dorris’s memoir about his adopted son, The Broken Cord (Chapter 4); the work of Oliver Sacks (Chapter 6); memoirs of euthanasia (Couser calls these "euthanographies"), Saying Goodbye to Daniel: When Death Is the Best Choice, by Julia Cassutto Rothman; Rescuing Jeffrey, by Richard Galli, and But What If She Wants to Die, by George DeLury (Chapter 7). Finally, in the last chapter, Couser considers how investigation of the human genome might influence the "scripts" of our lives and hence life writing, and also how life writing might be a counter discursive force against genomic essentialism.

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Seeing Voices

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In this book Sacks takes the reader into the world of the prelingually deaf, a world in which spoken language is incomprehensible. He describes the visual language, Sign, and considers the development and culture of American Sign Language. Sacks evokes the conflict between those who seek to teach the deaf to communicate via voice and lip-reading and those who affirm Sign, the native culture of the deaf.

In the latter part of the book, Sacks re-creates the student rebellion at Gallaudet University in 1988 when a "hearing" president was chosen from among three finalists, two of whom were deaf. The back cover summarizes this book as "a provocative meditation on communication, biology, and culture."

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Albert Schweitzer. The Enigma

Bentley, James

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This book sketches the development of Schweitzer's ideas and accomplishments in theology, philosophy, musicology, and medicine. The author tends to pick up a theme at one time and then follow further developments on that theme at later points in Schweitzer's life. Thus, the book is not a comprehensive biography and it often departs from a strict chronological approach.

While there is some discussion of Schweitzer's "tortured" childhood and his later world-renown as the "jungle doctor," of Gabon, Bentley focuses on four intellectual and spiritual developments in Schweitzer's life. The first is his theological career, which led to the groundbreaking Quest for the Historical Jesus (1906) and subsequent theological books such as The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930).

The second is his philosophy of "reverence for life, "which was first fully articulated in Civilization and Ethics (1923). The third is Schweitzer's career as a musician, musicologist, and organ designer. Finally, Bentley traces the development of Schweitzer's ministry as a medical missionary in Central Africa.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

Brigid's Charge, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Virginia, has devoted his long career (37 years) to amassing and analyzing empirical evidence for reincarnation. In this book the journalist Tom Shroder describes Dr. Stevenson's work and gives a fascinating account of Stevenson's most recent field investigations in Lebanon and India.

The primary data supporting reincarnation are accounts of previous lives spontaneously reported by young children. This phenomenon is relatively common in cultures that accept reincarnation; for example, the Hindu and Druze peoples. In some cases the accuracy of details from reported past lives can be verified, even though there is also good evidence that the child (or anyone in his family or network of contacts) had no "external" way of learning the information.

Stevenson began studying such cases in the early 1960s and gradually developed a rigorous methodology for assessing and classifying the data. In Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and his other writings, Stevenson has presented hundreds of narratives, many of which seem prima facie convincing, except for the small problem that they fall completely outside the bounds of scientific orthodoxy.

As a participant observer, Shroder tells a sympathetic, yet questioning, story of Stevenson's investigation (or follow up) of a few recent cases. In the process, he presents a compelling portrait of the maverick 80-year-old psychiatrist.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, has devoted his career to the study of cases suggestive of reincarnation. The cases consist of narratives of young children who claim to remember past lives. The cases occur primarily in India, Sri Lanka, South Asia, West Africa, Lebanon, and among Northwestern Native Americans, in cultures and religions in which reincarnation is accepted. Stevenson and his colleagues have collected over 2000 such narratives, but only a much smaller number provide what he considers "strong" evidence.

In the latter cases, Stevenson has performed detailed, nearly contemporaneous investigations that appear to rule-out communication of any kind between the child's family and the relatives of the recently deceased person the child claims to be. In addition, many of the "strong" cases have birth defects or birthmarks at the exact sites of traumatic injuries in the deceased person's life.

This book is a shortened and popularized version of a scientific monograph entitled Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (also published by Praeger Press in 1997). Stevenson categorizes his cases by strength of evidence for a precisely located traumatic injury in the deceased person (i.e. simply remembered by the family, identified in medical records, or verified at autopsy). He also categorizes cases by the size and nature of the child's defect or birthmark.

In each chapter he presents a series of short narratives summarizing cases in a particular category, and comments on the weight and possible interpretations of the evidence. In Chapter 26 Stevenson analyzes a variety of explanations (including normal and paranormal possibilities), and concludes that the strongest of his cases are best explained by accepting the hypothesis of reincarnation (i.e. the discarnate personality of a recently dead person influencing the personality of a newborn child).

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The Private Life of Islam

Young, Ian

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Ian Young spent the summer of 1970 as a medical student working at a hospital in the province of Kabylia in Algeria. He was assigned to the Maternity department, where he worked primarily with two Bulgarian doctors. Most foreign medical personnel in Algeria at the time came from Eastern bloc countries, as "Islamic Socialism" was the official political system in the newly independent (1962) North African country. According to Young, obstetrical care for the mostly Berber women of the area was brutal, disorganized, antiquated, and dangerous.

Dr. Vasilev, the head of the department, is a passive and indecisive man, who spends most of his day reading the newspaper. Once roused from his lethargy, which doesn't happen very often, he demonstrates competence and concern for his patients. His colleague, Dr. Kostov, is an aggressively brutal man who introduces himself to pregnant patients by shoving his fist into their vaginas.

Both doctors excuse their behavior by saying, "We just can't do it here they way we do it in Bulgaria." For the most part, they do not use sterile technique, and although anesthetics are available, neither Kostov nor Vasilev typically use them. The Algerian nursing staff provides at least a modicum of organization and care in this dreadful environment.

At first Young approaches the situation with disbelief and anger. He then attempts to improve the quality of care, first by introducing a flow sheet for obstetrical care, and later by submitting a report on the poor conditions to the hospital director.

Mild-mannered Dr. Vasilev supports him, but no one uses the new flow sheets, and the Director considers the report a personal (and political) affront. Meanwhile, Ian Young presents the reader with a seemingly endless series of fascinating patient cases and interesting stories about hospital personnel, as well as about his excursions to various parts of Kabylia.

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Oaxaca Journal

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is the journal that Oliver Sacks kept during a "fern foray" in Oaxaca, Mexico. Sacks is a fern lover, even though he admits to an even greater passion for club mosses and horsetails. In 1993 John Mickel of the New York Botanical Gardens introduced Sacks to the New York chapter of the American Fern Society (AFS). Consisting mostly of amateur naturalists, AFS meetings were both congenial and passionate, unlike the cold competitiveness of professional meetings in neurology and neuroscience. The New York AFS folks arrange periodic trips to hot spots in the fern world to indulge their passion. In 1999 Oliver Sacks accompanied them on a trip to Oaxaca, which is a veritable paradise of ferns.

Though the trip is only 10 days long, Sacks packs a month’s worth of sights and sounds and meditations into his journal. We learn a lot about the hundreds of species of ferns that range from southern Mexico’s rain forests to the nooks and crannies of its arid central plateau. But the author’s curiosity roams freely and absorbs his new environment. We learn about the origin of chocolate, the history of tobacco, and the archeology of Monte Alban. We learn about the process of distilling mescal in one’s backyard. Most of all, we are introduced to nearly a dozen vivid characters, united in their enthusiasm for fieldwork and ferns.

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Gray's Anatomy

Gray, Spalding

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author, a renowned monologist, gives a hilarious account of his adventures as he attempts to cure a disturbing change in vision, diagnosed as macula pucker. His encounter with conventional medicine, including a physician who coldly recommends "a little macula scraping" leads the author on a worldwide search for the perfect, alternative cure.

He winds up naked and panting in a "Native American sweat lodge," following a rigid raw vegetable diet, trying the Christian Science prayers of his youth, and participating in a wild and gory psychic healing session in the Philippines with the "Elvis Presley of psychic surgeons." He finally controls his multiple anxieties about entering middle age, listens to his sensible fiancee, and undergoes conventional surgery.

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