Showing 31 - 40 of 3427 annotations

Wild Boy

Dawson, Jill

Last Updated: Jun-15-2022
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Young doctor Jean-Marc Itard is serving in the Paris home for deaf-mute children. When a “wild boy” without speech is found near a village in Aveyron, France, Itard accepts the challenge of educating him. Many senior colleagues, including Philippe Pinel, opine that it will be impossible, even when Itard determines that the boy is not deaf. The lad, now named Victor, seems to be about ten years old, but his small size owing to malnutrition may be deceptive; he quickly reaches puberty. Helped by the care and empathy of the home’s housekeeper, Madame Guérin, and Julie, her daughter, Victor learns to perform several domestic tasks but manages to speak only a few words.

 His situation is a mystery. Caregivers marvel at how he had been able to survive alone in the woods for several years. They wonder if he ran away from an abusive home, or if he was deliberately abandoned because of his disability. A crisis emerges when a woman appears claiming to be his relative. Itard eventually abandons the effort to educate Victor, but he is allowed to continue living with the Guérins.

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The Inkblots

Searls, Damion

Last Updated: Jun-14-2022
Annotated by:
Madsen, Danielle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Damion Searls’ The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing is a comprehensive history of Rorschach’s life and an overview of the use and influence of his psychiatric test over the past century.

Rorschach grew up in Switzerland, the son of a widowed middle school art teacher who would die while Rorschach was a teenager after suffering from years from neurological disease caused by lead paint exposure. Rorschach debates whether to study drawing and become a teacher or attend medical school and pursue a career in neurology. The book follows his career across three countries after choosing to do the latter, until he becomes a practicing psychiatrist at a rural Swiss institution. It traces his psychiatric influences—Bleuler and then Jung as professors while at the University of Zurich and Freud via their influence—as well as his artistic ones—Ernst Haeckel, the pre-modernist galleries of Zurich, then Russian Futurism. It also provides an overview of the field of psychiatry at the time: schizophrenia was considered an unremittable condition named dementia praecox, psychiatric institutions included patients with tertiary syphilis, and increasing neurologic knowledge and psychiatric techniques improved diagnostics but not treatments.

The earliest inkblots of Rorschach’s are temporary creations made with a local schoolteacher and administered to patients and pupils, formulated as one of dozens of strategies to gain insight into people. Rorschach’s patients see much in these inkblots, but the schoolboys little, and the experiment is abandoned. He returns to the idea a decade later, with greater stress placed on the image. He requires that they look organic rather than made, imply movement, and have multiple foreground/background interpretations. After creating a set of ten products, he starts to categorize results. He codes whether the answers are seen in the whole image or a detail; whether they are based on form, color, or movement; whether the figures seen in the image are well- or poorly-defined; and how many and what category of answers are seen. The coded results enable Rorschach to give accurate blind diagnoses and he begins to gain traction in psychiatric community. However, he dies before his inkblots become popular.

The book follows the test as it travels to America and gains acclaim with psychologists. It is used in clinic and hospitals and becomes a standard part of psychology training. The inkblots are part of military personnel assessments and scientific studies. They are referenced in criminal trials and family court. They are applied in anthropology and education. They show up on movie posters and in fashion shows and become a household name. As it details these broad applications, the book explains the battle over how the test should be given and whether analysis of the results should be open-ended interpretation or a standardized scoring method. It also details society’s constantly shifting belief as to whether psychological testing is a valid diagnostic tool.  

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Summary:

In this age of intellectual sub-sub-sub-specialization, it would be unfair to say that people have completely abandoned grand narratives in their discipline. There are still brave souls who are willing to take on the big picture and try to synthesize what is known in their field as well as allied areas into a cohesive all-encompassing story. Stephen Pinker is a prominent example of someone who has leveraged his expertise in psychology and linguistics to fashion upbeat histories of humanity. But it would be fair to say that it is unusual to encounter a book that takes on the world and confidently asserts, “I think you have it all wrong.” To possibly be correct in the claim would be rarer still. This book by Graeber and Wengrow falls squarely into that small category.

The book has a bittersweet back story that only adds to its appeal. It represents the result of a decade long collaboration between Graebner, an anthropologist, and Wengrow, an archeologist. It originally started as pure academic fun between two colleagues but quickly escalated into a serious dialogue that culminated in a book with 83 pages of notes and a 63-page bibliography. Sadly, Graeber died unexpectedly at age 59 of necrotizing pancreatitis shortly after completing the work and did not live to see its publication.

The book has attracted a great deal of attention because it takes on the accepted grand narrative of human development, namely, a linear evolution from a primordial state of innocence and equality to a society in which hierarchy and inequality are hard wired into existence. The key step in this transition is the move from small groups of hunter-gatherers to agriculture-based groups that gradually grew in size and became more centralized in structure. This resulted in the prioritization of private property and the consolidation of the population into cities that mandated top-down control. Regardless of whether you invoke Rousseau as your intellectual guide or Hobbes as your rationalization for a powerful sovereign state, the traditional view is that you will reach the same endpoint, the loss of equality. Graebner and Wengrow challenge this “myth.” Their operational method is to examine the scientifically sophisticated data that have been gathered by archeologists from prehistoric sites around the world. They conclude that the prevailing view shortchanges human inventiveness in framing how people have chosen to live and undermines our freedom to reconsider the way society is organized. As an example of the scope and originality of the book, in the second chapter, they argue that this Enlightenment notion of “noble savages” and steady linear progress may have arisen among the French intelligentsia in the 18th century in response to the interaction of North American Indians with the French in the New World. Heady stuff that you thought you would not have to think about after college.

The book is loaded with facts and details about burial grounds, temples, houses, and playing fields that archeologists and anthropologists use as the ground truth in their work. They document how there was great variability and fluidity in social structure over course of the year in prehistoric times, demonstrating that though men and women could not control their environment they could do their best to adapt by alternating between planting and food gathering before there were “farms.”  In contrast to the view that agricultural groups, with their need for defined plots of land, created the notion of private ownership, they cite real world evidence from places as far flung as Poverty Point in Louisiana to the Australian Western Desert that the sacred realm was the origin of individual possession. They contrast in great detail the lifestyles of communities living along the west coast of North America, in the region from Washington State to northern California. The evidence is clear that while the northern communities were hunter gatherers, patriarchal, more warlike, and more ostentatious, those in the south were characterized by a less showy land-based public sphere and a more peaceful demeanor that was reflected in a greater role of women in defining the activities of daily living and social structure. The communities were not isolated and had contact with one another, underscoring the fact that the ways of life were active choices and not passive default modes. The start of farming was gradual over thousands of years and was not a revolutionary change, and prehistoric communities could switch their mode of sustenance in the face of changing circumstances.

I will not have to take a final examination on the book so I cannot say that I can repeat the names of all the Amerindian communities living in middle America along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers or recount the details of all the artifacts of and rites performed by the Mesoamerican civilizations. Graebner and Wengrow discuss an incredible number and variety of archeological sites throughout Eurasia and Africa, in addition to those in the New World, so I have to take the authors’ recitation of the facts on faith. I am sure that some of their interpretation is open to question by experts in the fields. But Graebner and Wengrow will certainly get you thinking.

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My Borrowed Face

Nigliazzo, Stacy

Last Updated: Jun-06-2022
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

"My Borrowed Face," Stacy Nigliazzo's third full-length poetry collection, contains 55 poems, presented as a continuous flow without division into sections. Once again, Nigliazzo's poems are spare, often only phrases or words scattered on the white page, a form that leads the reader's eye from one image to the next. (For a brief discussion of how this poet uses white space, see the annotation of her second collection, “Sky the Oar” on this database.)  The poems in this collection were written during the Covid pandemic; they speak of the toll the virus has taken and continues to take not only on patients but, in these poems, on the caregivers--specifically the poet.  Nigliazzo, an emergency room nurse who has worked through five pandemic surges, is the perfect narrator to take us along on her rounds.

The book's early poems look back before the pandemic ("5920 Days Pre-Pandemic," p. 11) and then they come closer ("30 Days Pre-Pandemic," p. 12), until they begin to chart, with stark imagery, the beginning and the continuation of the pandemic.  We walk with the poet / nurse as she ticks off the days from "First Sunday on the Ward, Pandemic," p. 15, through "575 Days Out," p. 41. 

The 16 poems that close the book are a rest, in a sense, from the pandemic.  These poems are individual reflections, like quick photographs, that capture a variety of observations both personal and professional. "Self-Portrait as the Pink Moon," p. 42, and "Blue Book," p. 43, hark back first to Nigliazzo's mother, pregnant with the poet, then to her mother's death.  In a way, circling this collection back to the beginning, birth and death, the never ending turning.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

After 65 years of marriage, two life-partners face the prospect of final separation, as one of them develops multiple myeloma. This is the crisis that led Irvin Yalom, eminent psychiatrist, novelist, and pioneer of existential psychotherapy, and his wife Marilyn, acclaimed feminist author and historian, to collaborate in writing the story of their journey through Marilyn’s final months of life. In the resulting book, Irvin and Marilyn write alternating chapters until Marilyn becomes unable to write. After her death, Irvin continues with the story of his bereavement.  

Marilyn’s chapters include reflections on love and illness, ranging from Emily Dickinson and Henry James to Paul the Apostle. She frequently expresses her gratitude: “I can still talk, read, and answer my emails. I am surrounded by loving people in a comfortable and attractive home.” (p. 20) Most of all, she is thankful for her husband, “the most loving of caretakers.” (p. 15) Yet, as her disease progresses, she comes “to the understanding that I would never be the same again—that I would pass through days of unspeakable misery while my body would decline and weaken.” (p. 76) She decides to pursue the option of physician-assisted suicide, which is legal in California, when her suffering becomes overwhelming.  

In his chapters, Irvin resists this decision, maintaining hope for additional “good” life, despite all evidence to the contrary. Near the end, Marilyn’s pain and other symptoms become so severe that she cries out, “It’s time, Irv. It’s time. No more, please. No more.” (p. 139) Her physician arrives, confirms her intention, and surrounded by her whole family, Marilyn sucks the liquid through a straw and quietly passes away.

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The Steel Windpipe

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Last Updated: Jun-02-2022
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A little girl is brought to the rural hospital by her mother, who throws herself at the feet of the young doctor, “Please do something to save my daughter!” It seems that she has been suffering from a sore throat and is now having difficulty breathing. The doctor looks into her throat; diphtheria is evident.At first he scolds the mother for not having brought the girl earlier. Then he suggests surgery: a tracheotomy. The doctor knows this is the only way he might save the child, but he is consumed by anxiety because he has never performed the procedure. At first the mother objects to surgery, but then relents. The tracheotomy is successful and the child survives.

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Annotated by:
Dammeyer, Kristen

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Life According to Sam provides insight into the life of Sampson “Sam” Berns and his family. At the beginning of the film, Sam states, “I want you to know me.” Accordingly, the film alternates between highlighting Sam’s experiences as he navigates life as a teenage boy and his participation in the first ever clinical trial for progeria.  At the start of the film, Sam is a 13-year-old boy in middle school. As with many other boys his age, his interests include Legos, music, and spending time with his friends, or his “bros” as he affectionately calls them.  

But Sam was diagnosed with progeria just prior to his second birthday. Progeria is a rare disease that affects approximately 250 children worldwide, caused by a genetic mutation which codes for the formation of an abnormal toxic protein, protegrin, that builds up in organs over time. It is a premature aging syndrome that causes progressive cardiovascular decline and for which there is no cure. The average age of death for these children is 13, and they die primarily of heart attacks and strokes.  

At the time of Sam’s birth his mother Leslie was a pediatric intern and his father, Scott, a pediatric emergency medicine physician. After his diagnosis, the family devoted themselves to progeria, an orphan disease which at the time had no identified genetic etiology, no foundation, no research, and no treatment. With the help of Leslie’s sister Audrey, the family started The Progeria Research Foundation, which raised over $1.25 million dollars, funded the discovery of the gene for progeria, and began the first clinical trials to test treatment for the disease. 

In the film, Leslie spearheads the first ever clinical trial for the treatment of progeria. The drug, lonafarnib, had demonstrated efficacy in mice and was FDA approved for a clinical trial including 28 children from 16 countries. The children would receive the medication for 2.5 years and return to Boston Children’s Hospital three times per year for a battery of tests. At the end of the trial, Leslie goes through the arduous process of writing up the results and submitting the trial for publication in hopes of making the drug more widely available for children with progeria. In the end, the trial results are published and the results for individual patients are released. While the medication falls short of being a cure, there are glimpses of hope in patients whose disease progression has been slowed or even reversed.

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Summary:

In Sweden, hundreds of children lie unconscious for months or even years in their homes or hospitals. Full neurologic evaluation, including MRIs, EEGs, and other studies reveal no abnormalities.  None of these children are Swedish. They are immigrants from the Near East or former Soviet republics, whose families are seeking permanent asylum in Sweden. If asylum is granted, the children gradually recover. Neurologists have named this mysterious illness “resignation syndrome” and classified it a functional neurological disorder.  

Suzanne O’Sullivan, an Irish neurologist, set out in 2018 to study children suffering from resignation syndrome, a project that led her to investigate other outbreaks of mysterious illness around the world. In The Sleeping Beauties, O’Sullivan discusses many such disorders, ranging from grisi siknis in Nicaragua (convulsions and visual hallucinations) to a form of sleeping sickness in Kazakhstan. These disorders have several features in common: absence of findings on medical and psychiatric tests, contagiousness (i.e. they seem to spread rapidly among populations in close contact), and significant morbidity.  

Dr. O’Sullivan notes “there is a disconnect between the way mass psychogenic disease is defined and discussed by the small number of experts who study it and how it is understood outside those circles.” (p. 257) The public finds reports of such illnesses difficult to believe. In the United States, we tend to believe that such illness, if it exists at all, occurs only in “backward” cultures and not in our enlightened society. On the contrary, the author presents “Havana syndrome,” as a case of mass psychogenic disease that first appeared among American diplomats in the Cuban capital in 2016. No consistent brain abnormalities have ever been found, and extensive study has ruled-out the possibility of a sonic weapon.  Dr. O’Sullivan believes that Havana syndrome is very likely a functional neurologic disorder occurring against “a background of chronic tensions within a close-knit community.” (p. 257)

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The Dropout

Meriwether, Elizabeth

Last Updated: May-19-2022
Annotated by:
Sood, Shefali

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: TV Program

Summary:

Based on the 2021 podcast of the same title produced by Rebecca Jarvis, The Dropout is an 8-episode miniseries starring Amanda Seyfried as the infamous biotechnology fraudster Elizabeth Holmes and Naveen Andrews as her much older boyfriend-turned-accomplice, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. The miniseries documents the real-life story of Elizabeth Holmes and her evolution from an ambitious, dedicated and somewhat awkward teenager into a ruthless, immoral and still quite awkward CEO of Theranos, a company she founded after dropping out of Stanford her sophomore year. She claimed to develop technology to run hundreds of diagnostic medical tests on a single drop of a patient’s blood. She defrauded hundreds of doctors, investors, pharmaceutical companies and even Walgreens along the way and put hundreds of patients who received faulty Theranos blood test results at risk. This year, Holmes was found guilty on four counts of fraud by a federal grand jury.

The miniseries begins in Holmes’ childhood and utilizes footage from her federal deposition and media interviews to document her evolution from having an innocent desire to invent something to help people to a grifter who put others in danger without a second thought. In her teenage years, Holmes idolizes Steve Jobs. Instead of boyband posters in her room, she has photos of him with Apple products. She spends a summer in China in a language immersion program, where she meets a man 30 years her senior, Sunny Balwani, and strikes up an uncomfortable friendship after learning of his success in business. She is shown to be somewhat of an outcast in school, practicing being excited for a party in a mirror and speaking almost every day with Balwani instead of her peers. Her conversations with Balwani mostly are about her ideas to help people and her desire to be a billionaire. This goal of helping others pushes her to study biomedical engineering at Stanford. She proudly proclaims to family friend Dr. Richard Fuisz, a physician-turned-inventor, that she is in the top 10% of applicants. At Stanford, she is incredibly focused on her goal to invent, and with an unrelenting fervor, she enrolls in graduate level classes and pitches ideas to professors. She is a teacher’s pet; however, when she pitches her idea for a medical drug delivery patch to Dr. Phyliss Gardner, a highly accomplished physician and researcher, her world crashes. Dr. Gardner immediately shoots down her idea and tells her to focus on her schoolwork before trying to invent the next big thing. Holmes can’t take no for an answer and quotes Yoda from Star Wars: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Dr. Gardner responds that in medicine and science, some things are impossible and recognizing that is also part of the scientific process.

This all changes soon after pitching an idea for a blood test using a single drop of blood to Dr. Channing Robertson, an influential chemical engineer at Stanford. He backs her idea and gives her capital for a company. She encourages her parents to let her drop out of Stanford, citing Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and other influential tech leaders as examples, and uses her tuition money to establish Theranos.   

Theranos, a combination of the words therapy and diagnosis, takes off, with significant roadblocks, fueled only by Holmes' dreams. Holmes neither has the scientific background nor the leadership skills to lead the company.  She does little in the chemistry labs and her lack of engineering, chemistry and medical knowledge prevents her from being able to pitch the idea successfully to healthcare venture capitalists. The blood testing device requires technology that would take years to build and require significant scientific collaboration that does not exist at Theranos. She needs data for investors that the devices are complete and work, so enrolls the faulty, not yet completed devices in a trial testing the blood of cancer patients. This leads to a tense encounter between lead engineer Edmond Ku and Holmes outside a cancer clinic. Ku states that he is an engineer, not a healthcare provider, and he is uncomfortable looking these patients in the eye and testing their blood on a machine he knows does not work. He is clearly very upset; but Holmes forces him to go inside and collect the samples. The clinical trial goes nowhere. 

After almost running the company into the ground, she convinces the Board to let her stay CEO if she brings on Balwani, with whom she is in a romantic relationship, as chief operating officer. Balwani offers advice on how to be a CEO of a tech company and encourages her to change her management style. The departments at Theranos become siloed to a point that scientists have no idea what is happening in the executive, marketing and media departments and vice versa. All information comes from Holmes. She spends no more time in the lab and has no meetings with lab personnel, but her name is on every patent. She markets herself as a young female tech CEO in a landscape dominated by men in sweatshirts. Her charisma and newfound business acumen allows her to secure a deal with Walgreens in which Theranos’ devices will be in Walgreens Wellness Centers for use by patients. She does not tell any of the scientists working on the device and does not consult any physicians. She shares no data with Walgreens about the design of the device, its accuracy or validity, citing trade secrets. When her lead chemist, the celebrated Dr. Ian Gibbons, catches wind of this plan, he confronts Holmes, who fires him on the spot for not having the same vision. Amidst pressure from the scientists, she rehires him the next day, but prevents him from working in the lab ever again. The toxic environment created by Holmes eventually causes Dr. Gibbons to commit suicide.   

The Theranos devices for the Walgreens agreement fail quality control checks and cannot be used.  Holmes and Balwani create a plan in which they use Siemens devices with Theranos logos to run the single drop blood patient samples which have been diluted to provide enough sample to be read by the Siemens machine. This leads to wildly inaccurate results being sent to patients. Examples include a high estrogen reading in a woman with a history of ovarian cancer, suggesting remission; a high thyroid hormone level in a pregnant woman already on thyroid medication, almost prompting her doctor to alter her dosage, which would be fatal for the fetus; and a high troponin level in a man with cardiovascular disease indicating he may be having a myocardial infarction. The lab technicians are aware of these inaccurate results. Eventually two techs, Erika Cheung and Tyler Schultz, the grandson of former Secretary of State George Schultz a and a Board member at Theranos, leak what is happening to a journalist, John Carreyrou at the Wall Street Journal, despite immense legal and physical threats from Holmes and Balwani. Eventually, using evidence from Cheung, Schultz, former scientists at Theranos, and physician-advocates among others, Carreyrou writes an article in the Journal exposing Theranos and Holmes for what they are --frauds. This spirals into the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shutting down Theranos labs indefinitely and leads to thousands of lawsuits regarding Theranos products. Holmes loses all credibility and is arrested on federal charges of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud.   

In the last scene, Holmes visits the office with her new dog to speak with a former Theranos lawyer, who can no longer find a job as a result of the scandal. She boasts about her new boyfriend. The lawyer confronts her, “you hurt people.” Holmes denies this vehemently saying she just ‘failed to deliver’ as CEO and runs frantically out of the office where she breaks down while waiting for her Uber. 


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Site Fidelity

Boyles, Claire

Last Updated: May-16-2022
Annotated by:
Zander, Devon

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Site Fidelity is a collection of short stories by Claire Boyles, a writer and former farmer who currently resides in Colorado.  Each of the stories focuses on a woman or family in the American West, forming interconnected narratives that inform one another. Some share recurring characters, while others, notably “Chickens,” stands alone, connected to the rest of the collection only by its common themes.

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