Showing 471 - 480 of 740 Nonfiction annotations

The Bell Curve

Gawande, Atul

Last Updated: Oct-04-2005
Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Subtitled "What happens when patients find out how good their doctors really are," this article starts with an important statement: "Every illness is a story, and Annie Page's began with the kinds of small unexceptional details that mean nothing until seen in hindsight."

This is the introduction to a look at a child with cystic fibrosis and how her family sought the best care for her.

The author, Dr. Atul Gawande, goes on not only to tell their story but also the story of the way in which the understanding of this disorder has increased and the unusual rigor with which centers that specialize in the disease are evaluated.

He also includes stories of other sufferers to emphasize the importance of surveillance of their care.

These stories allow him to generalize about the way physicians' care is evaluated in general by the public and our medical organizations and how difficult it is to be at the high end of the Bell Curve. The author concludes, "When the stakes are our lives and the lives of our children, we expect averageness to be resisted."

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Healy focuses on the social and cultural meaning of disease in Britain during the early modern period (roughly the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). Her chapter on "The Humoral-Paracelsan Body" discusses how the humoral theory of Galen, at this time still dominant in constructing a notion of the human body and its functions, was challenged by a new Paracelsan medicine, with its emphasis on spirit and on experiment instead of book-learning, and by the emergence of syphilis. She also establishes the genre of the "regimen[t]," a text advising how to achieve personal and social order.

Her two chapters on "The Plaguy Body" review the late-medieval and Renaissance history of the plague and argue that the social meaning of the plague as a trope of violence and rebellion shifts over the course of the sixteenth century, from a judgment on Britain's "rich extortioners," careless of the welfare of the poor, to the threat represented by London's unruly urban underclass.

Healy's two chapters on "The Pocky Body" argue that the new disease of syphilis became another dominant metaphor for social disorder because it helped focus anxieties about cultural hypocrisy, corruption, and degeneration, linked to the problems of sin generally and excessive appetite in particular. Her final chapter examines "The Glutted, Unvented Body," another powerful figure of excessive appetite, threatening that the body (and its appetites) would dethrone the head (the site of reason).

Healy demonstrates the importance of debates over the glutted, headless body as a way for British writers to negotiate the problems of a trade imbalance and the tricky terrain of resistance against the intemperate Stuart monarchs, culminating in the execution of Charles I in 1649. In the book as a whole, Healy reads literary and historical texts by authors as diverse as William Bullein, Thomas Dekker, Lucretius, Erasmus, William Shakespeare (Measure for Measure and Pericles), and Milton (Comus).

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Quotations)

Summary:

This slim volume dips into "quotable quotes" drawn from literature and historical writings dating back several centuries. The quotes are put forth by physicians, patients, observers of medical issues, and writers of fiction as well as essayists. Each quote is but a few lines. The author, the source, and the date (when known) are provided for each quotation.

Many of these quotations will be familiar to persons who are widely read or who study the literature by and about medicine. Some of the quotes are scatological in the sense that they address issues of bodily parts and functions; others are simply amusing, while many are profound observations. The range is wide and the selections eclectic.

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Summary:

The aim of this collage of anecdotes from medical history is largely to entertain, though it is pointedly instructive in its focus on reasons for and results of medical mistakes, misapprehensions, and serendipitous breakthroughs. Gordon's dryly humorous skepticism and general irreverence is balanced by an obvious delight in the intellectual play that characterizes the history of science.

The stories he tells range from Hippocrates to the present with a heavy focus on the 18th and 19th centuries. The book includes a good representative collection of visual art and photography documenting moments in medical history upon which Gordon casts a cold but twinkling eye. Chapter titles such as "Discoveries in the Dark," "Sex and its Snags," "Odd Practices," and "Freud, the English Governess and the Smell of Burnt Pudding" give a bit of the book's flavor.

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Elegy for Iris

Bayley, John Oliver

Last Updated: Aug-26-2005
Annotated by:
Taylor, Nancy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir of Bayley's life with novelist Iris Murdoch who, in 1994, began exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's disease, is divided into "Then" and "Now," with emphasis on the "Then." Bayley admits that their independent lifestyles, which had both bound them and allowed them freedom, kept him from knowing the "real" Murdoch; sadly, the novelist is almost as much an unknown to him as to us. He speaks of Murdoch's lack of any sense of superiority and her disinterest in social or artistic success; she simply did her work.

In the brief section titled "Now," Bayley presents seven episodes of their life together between January and December 1997. These pictures of Murdoch lost and at sea, following him around, uttering "mouse cries," collecting pebbles, moss, sticks, dead worms, and asking over and over "When are we going?"--these will be familiar to Alzheimer's families, as will his sometimes rage and his constant sense of frustration and loss.

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My Mother Dying

Johnson, Hillary

Last Updated: Aug-26-2005
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The title of this variegated narrative hardly does it justice. Though some of the most eloquent passages are about the lingering death of the author's mother, Ruth Johnson, from esophageal cancer, it is, just as centrally, the writer's memoir of growing up with the woman she has just seen through her final years of diminishment and loss, and commentary on her mother's art as testimony to her quirky, original, unconstrained, sometimes jaundiced, often hilarious view of the human comedy.

Hillary Johnson returned to Minneapolis from New York to be with her mother and stepfather after years of only intermittent contact and in the process of reentering her mother's life, came to reassess her own. Ruth chain-smoked, drank freely, lived spontaneously, painted uninhibitedly (40 illustrations include examples of her artwork) and often bestowed her art without price wherever it was appreciated. She was a local celebrity and the daughter, who has achieved her own success, finds in her mother's life a new measure of her own. In retrospect, she recognizes the costs, both to her mother and to herself, of the bohemian way of life she knew as a child, and the pain she didn't at the time fully recognize as such.

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Light from an Eclipse

Lagomarsino, Nancy

Last Updated: Aug-15-2005
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In poetry and prose the writer chronicles her father's final months as Alzheimer's disease progressively seals him into a world where those who love him can't follow. Each short segment details a moment on the writer's journey as witness to his losses: moments of confusion--his and her own, uncertainty about appropriate diplomacy, invention of new activities and rituals to keep him linked to love and alive.

With sure, spare language, she sketches in her own memories, bits of family stories, irrational feelings, the different way she comes to look at home, at family relationships, even at familiar objects. More a song than a story, the collection of vignettes offers both comfort and realism to those on similar journeys of slow loss.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Journalist Jonathan Eig traces the life of Lou Gehrig, one of the finest first basemen that major league baseball has ever known. Gehrig played as a tremendously reliable and powerful hitter for 17 seasons with the New York Yankees, the only team for which he played, many of them with Babe Ruth; he starred in 7 World Series games, playing on 6 championship teams. Gehrig's consecutive game streak of 2130 games, part of the reason for his nickname Iron Horse, was only broken recently, in 1995, by Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles.

Born June 19, 1903, Gehrig was only 35 years old when he developed the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease of vicious and progressive muscle wasting. He died June 2, 1941, quietly, at home. A relatively unknown disease at the time, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, soon became known as "Lou Gehrig's disease."

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The Devil's Dictionary

Bierce, Ambrose

Last Updated: Aug-11-2005
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Dictionary

Summary:

A scathing parodic dictionary, wherein how words are normatively and conventionally defined is replaced by what they often actually do mean. One of the many classic examples is Bierce's definition of "Bigot" as 'One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.'

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Handbook

Summary:

Professor Sandra Bertman founded the Medical Humanities Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and holds certificates in grief counseling and death education. This handbook outlines how she uses the visual and literary arts to "improve our professional abilities to deal with death and dying." Her premise is that the arts provide a valuable vehicle for exploring and making bearable the prospect and fact of death.

Bertman illustrates her presentation technique (Chapter 2) of juxtaposing dual images around six central themes, here abbreviated: the chosen death; death and afterlife; existential aloneness; loss of control, unmentionable feelings, grief; the land of the sick vs. the land of the well; the moment of death. The book offers dozens of paintings, sketches, and photographs (reproduced in black and white), as well as many literary excerpts. Classic works are represented (David's painting, The Death of Socrates; Michelangelo's sculpture, "Pieta"; Tolstoy's novel, The Death of Ivan Ilyich) but there are many unusual representations as well--greeting card messages, epitaphs, cartoons.

In addition, some groups with whom she works (for example, medical students studying Gross Anatomy) have submitted their own drawings and commentary. These are shown in Chapter 3, along with written responses to a follow-up Death Attitude Questionnaire. Responses are from junior and senior high school students; college students; medical students; graduate nurses; hospice volunteers.

Chapter 4 gives suggestions for how to use images and texts and for how to approach discussions of loss and grief. The course syllabus for "Dissection, Dying, and Death," taught with Gross Anatomy, is appended, and there is an extensive bibliography.

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