Showing 491 - 500 of 667 Nonfiction annotations

Her Secrets

Berger, John

Last Updated: Feb-08-2002
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Berger writes shortly after the death of his mother. He remembers how as a child he had a morbid fear that his parents would die in the middle of the night. But his mother has lived for a long time. Now Berger reflects on his mother's secrets. She was forever stoic and had an air of mystery that Berger thinks caused him to become a writer--he had to try to fathom the mystery. On her death bed, he learns her secret-- she has had a happy life.

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Summary:

In 1871 the Polaris, a rebuilt tugboat commissioned by the U.S. Navy, set sail with a dual mission: planting the stars and stripes on the North Pole and providing scientific data and specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. A number of poor decisions were made early on in the planning and initiation of the expedition, including an inadequately structured vessel, a vague power distribution lacking a clear absolute authority, and a sailing captain with a significant alcohol problem.

The power struggles begin early. By the third month of the voyage the ship is in physical trouble and the designated expedition head (Charles Francis Hall) has died suddenly of an unexplained illness. There is no leader and the struggle for control erupts between the German scientist/physician who is responsible for the scientific mission and the drunken whaleboat captain who is responsible for keeping his ship and crew safe.

Bad weather, terrible luck, and lack of discipline result in the loss of the Polaris, the splitting of the crew onto separate ice floes, and several months of harrowing experience trying to survive the Arctic winter and hope for rescue. The good news is that everyone except Mr. Hall miraculously survives the ordeal. The subsequent Naval inquiry into the failed endeavor ends without resolution as to the cause of Hall’s death despite hints from crew members that it was not natural. In 1968, long after all crew members had expired, Hall’s grave was located and forensic samples proved that he had died of arsenic poisoning.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Spencer Nadler, a surgical pathologist for over 25 years in southern California, offers 8 essays, as well as an introduction, epilogue and 9 full color histopathology plates in this collection. As he explains in the introduction, Nadler began his training in surgery, but, during a required year of surgical pathology, he finds his true vocation: "I realized a flair for surgical pathology that I had never demonstrated in surgery." (p. xix) However, over the years, he realizes he misses patient contact--these essays, written over 10 years, are forays into an unusual relationship: the pathologist-patient relationship.

Each essay is about a different patient (or other contact) and tissue. One of the most compelling is the first, "Working Through the Images," in which a woman (Hanna Baylan) with metastatic breast cancer seeks Nadler out so that she may view her cancer cells. She arrives in his office unannounced at 6 p.m. and he proceeds to not only show her the slides, but to listen to her. He becomes a witness to her pain, loneliness, sorrow and hope.

"For years I have processed thousands of such cases, determined the manifold forms of disease, but I've never been an intimate part of anyone's illness, never felt the connections of cells to a larger self." (p. 12) During later visits, Baylan cries in his arms and even brings her youngest son in to meet Nadler and view her cells. By this time, Nadler is completely connected to her: "This is heartrending to me, for I have come to love her . . . I can no longer think of Hanna in terms of the cells I see on her slides." (p. 21)

Other chapters highlight fat and bariatric surgery; neurologic disorders such as brain tumor, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and paraplegia; heart disease; sickle cell disease; and palliative care. Each chapter conveys Nadler's visual sophistication and ability to graphically describe cells. For instance, within a fat cell "a large fat globule steamrolls other cell contents flat against the outer membrane until it bulges like a mozzarella." (p. 32) More importantly, Nadler ably extends his cellular acuity to the larger human dimension.

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Dr. Sacks was growing up in London during World War II and had a very traumatic experience when he was sent away from his home for protection from the bombing. He and his brother were sent to a boarding school, where they were beaten and underfed. Sack's home had been filled with a wonderful extended family of physicists, mathematicians, teachers, and chemists, in addition to his parents who were both practicing physicians. Being unusually bright and talented, Sacks responded to a wide variety of stimuli when he returned to this environment.

He became fascinated with the chemistry of metals and with the periodic table of elements. An uncle, for whom the book is named, was a manufacturer of light bulbs with tungsten filaments and encouraged him in setting up his own chemistry laboratory in the family laundry room, to do experiments. The family allowed him a great deal of freedom, which encouraged his creativity.

In writing about these experiences Sacks includes the history of the development of chemistry concepts that fascinated him. It was only much later that his interests moved on to the natural sciences and medicine. He says that his parents had been tolerant and even pleased with his early interests in chemistry but by the time he was fourteen they felt that the time for play was over. He kept a journal from the age of fourteen and took advantage of every opportunity to read broadly and experience nature, music and art.

In retrospect, however, Sacks felt that life was shallower after he left behind his passion for chemistry. He says that he dreams of chemistry at night. This description of such intense interest in the world around him and the people he read about or knew explains a great deal about his great success as a neurologist and as a remarkable story teller.

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Walt Whitman's Civil War

Whitman, Walt

Last Updated: Feb-07-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This book presents the "War of Attempted Secession" through the eyes of America's great poet. It consists of letters, dispatches, articles, and prose selections from Specimen Days (1882), Whitman's quasi-autobiography. In addition, all of Whitman's Civil War poems are included, some interspersed through the text and others collected in an Appendix.

The editor has arranged this material into 14 thematic chapters, beginning with "an introductory section in which Whitman discusses the general character of the Civil War" and including chapters containing material on his visits to the front, life in Washington during the War, letters to his mother, his admiration for Lincoln, and other topics.

Of particular interest is "The Great Army of the Wounded," a chapter composed of dispatches to the New York Times and Brooklyn Eagle, in which Whitman describes the military hospitals surrounding Washington and his own work as a volunteer nurse, scribe, and friendly visitor. In "Dear Love of Comrades," he presents a number of "specimen" cases of sick or wounded soldiers. "O My Soldiers, My Veterans" consists of letters written to soldiers, or for soldiers to their families. Another chapter, "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors," presents Whitman's positive assessment of black regiments serving in the Union Army.

Many of the war poems appear in topically appropriate chapters; among the most effective of these are "A Twilight Song," "Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic a Voice," "Pensive on Her Dead Gazing," "Dirge for Two Veterans," "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors," "O Captain! My Captain," and The Wound Dresser (see annotation in this database).

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Annotated by:
Fefferman, Stanley

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Case Study

Summary:

P., a music teacher, whose associates have questioned his perception, is referred by his ophthalmologist to the neurologist Oliver Sacks. During the first office visit, Sacks notices that P. faces him with his ears, not his eyes. His gaze seems unnatural, darting and fixating on the doctor's features one at a time. At the end of the interview, at which his wife is present, P. appears to grasp his wife's head and try to lift it off and put it on his own head. "He had . . . mistaken his wife for a hat!" She gave no sign that anything odd had happened.

During the second interview, at P.'s home, P. is unable to recognize the rose in Sacks' lapel, describing it as "a convoluted red form with a linear green attachment." He is encouraged to speculate on what it might be, and guesses it could be a flower. When he smells it, he comes to life and knows it. The wife explains that P. functions by making little songs about what he is doing--dressing, washing or eating. If the song is interrupted he simply stops, till he finds in his sensorium a clue on how to proceed.

This cantatory method of compensating allows P. to function undetected in his professional and personal life. He remains unaware that he has a problem. Sacks chooses not to disturb his ignorant bliss with a diagnosis. Though his disease (never diagnosed but hypothesized as a tumor or degeneration of the visual cortex) advances, P. lives and works in apparent normalcy to the end of his days.

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In this collection, twenty-two authors take up the subject of wanting a baby and what happens to one's self-image and marriage/relationship when difficulties arise. All the contributors are accomplished writers--e.g. Amy Hempel, Michael Bérubé, Tama Janowitz--who tell stories of the miracles, disapppointments and sometimes horrors of the various reproductive technologies; the experience of childlessness when one/a couple desperately wants one; the joys of "success" via technology or adoption; what happens when every method fails.

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Rebecca

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Feb-05-2002
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Case Study

Summary:

This is one of the two dozen studies of patients with right-brain disorders that make up Sacks's volume The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. The nineteen-year-old Rebecca has significant physical and mental defects (her IQ is 60 at best), and by conventional neurological standards she is severely impaired, but Sacks discovers that she has moments of being quite in touch and "together" (her word).

The essay tells of Sacks's discovery of Rebecca's poetic expression and spiritual qualities, and of her self-awareness, in planes unknown to standard neurological and psychiatric categories. Sacks is broadly critical of psychological and neurological testing as constituting a "defectology" that is blind to important human qualities. He warmly recommends music and story-telling, both as modes of understanding and also as narrative therapies that work by ignoring the defects and speaking to the soul.

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Summary:

The author provides a historical review of physicians who became famous practicing a profession other than medicine. Most of the article focuses on physician-writers, beginning with Francois Rabelais, and including both well-known and obscure figures. There are extensive comments on Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Gottfried Benn, Friedrich Wolf, Mikhail Bulgakov, Oliver Goldsmith, Anton P. Chekhov, Arthur Schnitzler, W. (William) Somerset Maugham, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Carlos Williams, among others. The most complete discussion (5 pages) is devoted to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Nan Shin was an American woman living as a Zen Buddhist nun in France. She is diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer, undergoes surgery and chemotherapy and, by the end of the book, it appears, is dying. Her account does not, however, take the conventional form of the illness narrative; in fact its form might be called anti-narrative, for its focus is not on the story of Shin's illness and dying, but rather on the "every day living" that is at the center of her Zen beliefs.

The book consists of several strands that recur in alternating sections. One strand describes, in minute detail, the course of a single day's devotions and activities in the life of a Zen nun. Another traces the author's travels in the United States with her sensei, an astonishing man whose perspective on American culture is both detached and hilariously insightful.

A third tells of the author's frequent horseback rides through the French countryside, with beautifully focused and precise descriptions of the natural surroundings. Finally, there is the illness, presented matter-of-factly but conveying powerfully the author's (not always wholly successful) efforts to put into practice, in such trying circumstances, all she has learnt as a practitioner of Zen.

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