Showing 471 - 480 of 680 Nonfiction annotations

Seduction of the Innocent

Wertham, Fredric

Last Updated: Oct-21-2003
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

After seven years of research on children and adolescents diagnosed as "juvenile delinquents," psychiatrist Wertham concluded that crime comic books (mysteries, thrillers, horror, and police stories) are a harmful influence on young minds. In fourteen chapters, rife with the logic of comparison from the adult world, he analyzed the problem literature, its artwork, its advertising, and the so-called "educational messages" it contained.

Against the evidence of various "experts" and the champions of civil liberties, numerous anecdotes demonstrate how comic books glorify violent crime, link sexual love with physical abuse, permit illiteracy, and invite imitation. A series of vignettes demonstrates that violent child crime is on the rise and that actual crimes--even murder--have been connected to the reading of comics.

Wertham also provided statistics on comic book publishing, finances, and influence. A penultimate chapter is devoted to television. Emphasizing the public initiatives and legislative controls brought against American comics in other countries, such as Canada, Britain, Italy, Mexico, and Sweden, he demands action before yet another generation of youth is ruined.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

A philosopher and a clinical ethicist conduct an analysis of the practice of assisted suicide. They begin with the premise that health care providers may at times be assisting with suicide now, whether or not it is legal and whether or not the ethical dimensions have been solved. They contend that assisting a suicide might be morally right, but only when the patient’s choice is rational and free.

Referring to an earlier publication by Prado (Last Choice: Preemptive Suicide in Advanced Age, 1990; 2nd ed. 1998), they devote a chapter to each of three criteria used to determine the "rationality" of a choice for suicide, and another chapter to the "slippery slope" argument. A final chapter summarizes their contribution to this topic.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This biography, written by a second party in conjunction with the person whose story is portrayed, is the tale of a black lay-midwife working in the southern United States during the mid to latter part of the 20th century. Gladys Milton, mother of seven children herself, is called to midwifery training by the Health Department in a rural county in Florida.

After an introductory chapter that sets the stage for the ultimate challenge to Gladys, the following few chapters follow her through some of the high points of her childhood and early years of motherhood. The remainder of the work describes broadly the career--with its ups and downs--of Gladys as midwife, doing home deliveries and working in the birthing center she has established in her own home. The final chapters deal with the legal efforts and ultimately the hearing in which the Health Department attempts to revoke Gladys's license to deliver babies.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Martinez, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Values, Peter Singer argues that "the traditional western ethic has collapsed" as we enter "a period of transition in our attitude to the sanctity of life" (pp. 1). The book begins with the tale of Trisha Marshall, a twenty-eight year old woman, who in 1993 was seventeen weeks pregnant when a gunshot to her head left her in an intensive care unit, her body warm, her heart beating, a respirator supporting her breathing. However, she was brain dead.

Her boyfriend and her parents wanted the hospital to do everything possible so that the baby would be born. The ethics committee of the hospital supported the decision. For the next 100 days, Trisha Marshall continued to be supported in the ICU until her baby was delivered by cesarean birth. After a blood test showed that the boyfriend was not the father, and after three weeks in the intensive care unit, the baby went to live with Marshall's parents.

Singer uses this introduction to pose the many ethical questions that are raised because of medicine's ability to keep a "brain dead" body warm for an extended period of time. "How should we treat someone whose brain is dead, but whose body is still warm and breathing? Is a fetus the kind of being whose life we should make great efforts to preserve? If so, should these efforts be made irrespective of their cost? Shall we just ignore the other lives that might be saved with the medical resources required?

Should efforts to preserve the fetus be made only when it is clear that the mother would have wanted this? Or when the (presumed?) father or other close relatives ask for the fetus to be saved? Or do we make these efforts because the fetus has a right to life which could only be overridden by the right of the pregnant woman to control her own body--and in this case there is no living pregnant woman whose rights override those of the fetus?" (pp. 17-18).

In the chapters that follow, Singer argues that whether western society will acknowledge it or not, we have, in our actions and decisions, moved to an ethic where "quality of life" distinctions trump "sanctity of life" positions. Yet, many continue to raise the "sanctity of life" position when it is clear that our legal and ethical positions in western society have embraced the "quality of life" stance. For Singer, this paradox results in an incoherent and illogical approach to the ethical challenges presented by modern medicine.

Throughout his book, Singer presents evidence for his argument through ethical and historical analysis of brain death, abortion, physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, organ donation, and the nature of persons. For those uncomfortable with Singer's position on "infanticide," this book allows one to follow Singer's argument and his recommendations in the last chapter for a coherent approach to these "quality of life" decisions.

He closes his book with the recommendation that a new ethic should embrace five new commandments to replace the old "sanctity of life" commandments. His commandments are: 1) Recognize that the worth of human life varies; 2) Take responsibility for the consequences of our decisions (in end of life care); 3) Respect a person's desire to live or die; 4) Bring children into the world only if they are wanted; and 5) Do not discriminate on the basis of species.

View full annotation

Lucky

Sebold, Alice

Last Updated: Oct-21-2003
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

When Alice Sebold, author of the best-selling novel, The Lovely Bones (see this database), was completing her freshmen year at Syracuse University, she was assaulted and raped. Years after the fact, Sebold wrote this memoir about the rape and its aftermath. The book's title, "Lucky," is explained in the prologue: the police told Sebold that she was lucky to have escaped the fate of another girl who had been murdered and dismembered in the same spot. In point of fact, Sebold, a virgin before the rape, was in a sense murdered, since life as she had known it would never be the same: "My life was over; my life had just begun" (33).

In crisp, lively prose the author takes us relentlessly through the details of her rape and the police inquiry that followed. We learn also that the narrator had suffered from a poor body self-image, loved to spend her time reading, had day-dreams of becoming a poet. We learn about her family--a mother prone to severe panic attacks and a professorial father who hid behind his books, an older sister who helped Alice take care of their mother. The family was considered by neighbors to be "weird."

After the rape, Sebold felt even more isolated and "Other." She could not bring herself to tell her family, who tip-toed around her, all of the horrendous details of the assault. She realized that all who knew her were aware she had been raped and were uneasy in her presence. Her father could not understand how she could have been raped if the assailant's knife had dropped out of reach.

In spite of everything, Alice returns to Syracuse, taking poetry workshops with Tess Gallagher and a writing workshop with Tobias Wolff. Incredibly, she spots her assailant one day on the street near the college. The author notifies the police, the assailant is later arrested, and Alice agrees to press charges and to be a witness at the trial. Neither her father nor her mother have the stomach to come to the trial, but Tess Gallagher accompanies her. The account of the trial is detailed, agonizing, and fascinating.

View full annotation

The Autist Artist

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jun-02-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Case Study

Summary:

Jose is a patient who exhibits all the classical symptoms of autism. The caregivers in his institution treat him dismissively, as though he is stupid. Sacks notices, however, that, given a pencil, Jose draws not only with amazing accuracy, but with a quality of liveliness in his representations that betokens close, insightful, and even empathetic observation and awareness. As he encourages Jose to draw, he finds his drawings diagnostically helpful, and powerful evidence of an active interior life to which they provide a valuable link.

View full annotation

Summary:

In this tightly organized study of the relationship between creativity and manic-depressive disease and its variants, the author asks and attempts to address some interesting questions. Is there sufficient evidence in the histories of well-known artists and their families to demonstrate a genetic linking of creativity and depressive disorders? Are there phases in classic bipolar cycles that are particularly conducive to bursts of, or sustained, creative productivity? Does treatment (be it chemical or psychotherapeutic) of his or her psychiatric symptoms blunt the ability of the artist to work successfully?

In an attempt to answer these and other intriguing questions, Jamison explores in some detail the personal, family and creative histories of writers long suspected of being depressed with or without alcohol or having periods of mania. She opens by defining for the novice the parameters of the disorders in question, examines some of her subjects' family history of "madness," and discusses evidence for relationships among the waxing and waning of depressive disorders and creative productivity.

View full annotation

Summary:

This thorough and fascinating treatment of the politics of anatomy studies in 19th-century America provides a variety of perspectives on the vexed question of how appropriately to study human anatomy while also maintaining respect for the human body and honoring the various, deeply held community beliefs, and attitudes toward treatment of the dead. Sappol seeks, as he puts it, to "complicate the cultural history of medicine in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. . . by telling it from an anatomical perspective."

That statement of his objectives hardly suggests the startling range of approaches to the topic he takes in the book's nine chapters. These cover such issues as the legacies of belief about the "personhood" of the dead human body; the status of anatomy as both a legitimate and valuable study and also as an "icon of science"; the relationship of dissection and anatomy study to medical status and professionalization; the political tensions engendered by the "traffic in dead bodies" that most often expropriated corpses from marginalized communities; and the relationship of anatomy studies to sexual commerce and sensationalist fiction.

View full annotation

Demon in the Freezer

Preston, Richard

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

This gripping narrative traces the history of the efforts to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, the top-level decisions to keep a few vials of it for emergency purposes in American and Soviet freezers, and the reemergence of smallpox not only as a health threat, but as a potential bioweapon of unequaled destructive power. Preston details maverick natural cases that surfaced after worldwide eradication efforts, how it was discovered that undocumented reserves of smallpox were not only being kept, but researched and possibly "weaponized," and how hotly, in the US, teams of scientists and military intelligence personnel debated funding new smallpox research in the US with a view to developing a new vaccine as a defense.

The ethical issues in those debates are unprecedented in the scope of the possible public health threat and the variables that might make traditional vaccination ineffective against the weaponized virus. As in his previous books on biological threats, The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event (see annotation), Preston follows the work and lives of several key scientists and includes scenes from interviews with a variety of persons involved in confronting the political, ethical, and medical dilemmas posed by smallpox research and efforts to track and control it.

View full annotation

As I Lay Dying

Neuhaus, Richard John

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The subtitle of this memoir is "Meditations upon Returning." Richard John Neuhaus is a Catholic priest and scholar, director of the Institute on Religion in Contemporary Life in New York City and described on the book cover as "one of the foremost authorities on religion in the contemporary world." The book is a meditation on his near-brush with death as a result of colon cancer.

As Fr. Neuhaus describes it, he underwent two colonoscopies to ascertain the cause of persistent abdominal symptoms, but in both cases his colon was pronounced completely normal. However, shortly thereafter, he developed extreme abdominal pain and was taken to the hospital, where emergency surgery was performed and a colon cancer the size of a "big apple" was removed. During the first procedure, the surgeon nicked his patient’s spleen, so a second emergent procedure was required to control hemorrhaging.

The two procedures left Fr. Neuhaus very near death, but he gradually recovered over a period of several months. When introducing the story of his illness, the author comments, "several lawyers have told me my case would make a terrific malpractice suit." (p. 79) But he says he won’t sue, because it would "somehow sully my gratitude for being returned from the jaws of death." (p. 80) In fact, he has considerable praise for his surgeon.

The narrative of Fr. Neuhaus’s illness occupies a relatively small proportion of this memoir. The first three of seven chapters consist of the author’s reflections on the meaning of suffering and death, and especially the existential question of "Why me, now?" (His answer is "Why not?) In chapter five Fr. Neuhaus describes a near-death experience that changed his life, a scene in which he heard two "presences" tell him, "Everything is ready now." In much of the rest of the book, the author examines and rejects the possibility that the experience was a dream or an hallucination. He is convinced that he witnessed the "door" to a more glorious life after death, and this has, in some sense, profoundly changed his present life.

View full annotation