Showing 411 - 420 of 761 Nonfiction annotations

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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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Belle Yang has created a beautiful and lyrical tribute to her father (Baba) and to her Chinese heritage. She has illustrated the folktales and life of her father with her own brilliantly colored paintings, which complement her vivid and colorful prose. Several stories concern doctors and healing in early to mid 20th century China. For example, in the chapter titled "Secret Family Recipes," the tale of Daye reveals the intricate world of family relations, social structure based on wealth and family position, and country versus city prejudices.

Daye is a poor relation but a hard-worker. After he and his wife take an old traveling doctor, "jangling the healer’s trademark ring-shaped rattle," into their humble home, the old doctor teaches Daye how to heal and gave him his "family recipes" for healing. However, Daye’s troubles are not ended, as the townspeople call him a charlatan and quack. Daye does, though, possess the power to heal.

When a wealthy magnate is injured, Daye stakes his life that he can save the man’s leg, even though all the important doctors of Western medicine advise amputation. Daye saves the magnate’s leg, is catapulted to become the head of herbal medicine at the medical institute and passes on the "family recipes" to his daughter, "a short, squat, swarthy woman with bulbous eyes and yellow, ratlike teeth that sprouted between her normal adult ones, leaning every which way like disrupted roof tiles."

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Karen Newman traces the visual depictions of the pregnant female body, the fetus, and obstetrical illustrations from the 9th century to the present in western culture. These images, in which the fetus looks baby-like or even adult and in which the female body is truncated or mythologized, have supported the anti-feminist rhetoric where the fetus or embryo is privileged with full human rights. Even in the fetal studies by Leonardo da Vinci (Studies of the Fetus), which were far more accurate than any prior or concurrent renditions, the roles of the uterus and placenta are de-emphasized and the uterus is simply a vessel, "almost a Fabergé egg."

Analysis and critique of medical art history is of relevance for today's society: "Early obstetrical illustration, Bologna's Museo ostetrico, and eighteenth-century anatomical sculpture and engraving are not merely antiquarian esoterica; rather, they constitute crucial political knowledge for the present." In fact, the book begins and ends in the 20th century.

In the first section, a close analysis of the Lennart Nilsson fetal photographs in Life Magazine "Drama of Life Before Birth" (1965) reveals that not only the photo captions, but also the manipulations of the specimens during and prior to photography (all the pictures but one were ex utero), were designed to proclaim and reinforce "fetal personhood." A similar conclusion is reached at the end of the book, when images from the current, widely used obstetrical text and from new imaging procedures are examined.

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Walking Out on the Boys

Conley, Frances

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Dr. Conley became, in 1991, the center of media attention when she publicly declared her reasons for resigning her position as Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University: a hostile work environment due to the sexism of the male professor promoted first to acting chair, then chair of her department. This book is her story, but as she notes in the introduction, it is "one of many that could be told by women doctors across the country, about this institution [Stanford University] and many others like it."

Dr. Conley has been a remarkable pioneer in academic medicine: in 1975, she became the first female faculty member at Stanford in any surgical department. She was immediately elected the first female chair of the faculty Senate. She has led an active, innovative research team investigating the immunology of brain tumors. She is the first female tenured professor of neurosurgery in the country.

The book offers behind-the-scenes views of the anatomy lab and medical school, residency and sleep deprivation, the operating room and hospital medicine, and, above all, the political parrying and power struggles in academic medicine, particularly in the dean's office. In a bold move, Conley uses the real names of top administrators and those who had previously been identified in the media--not only concerning her issues, but also those involved with scandals that were unfolding concurrently in other departments.

Because of the circumstances surrounding her resignation and subsequent rescindment of the resignation, she became aware of many instances of sexism, gender discrimination and harassment, not only in academia, but throughout hospital and research environments. Her current position within the University and Veterans Affairs hospital enables her to be a strong voice for women's issues. This book chronicles her personal journey and acknowledges the support of her husband, parents, mentors, and friends along the way.

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Dr. Alvord was born to a Navajo father and a Caucasian mother--bilagaana--and felt from the beginning that she was walking the path between two worlds. Her childhood was spent on an Indian reservation and she was very close to her Indian grandmother.

She was fortunate to be able to attend Dartmouth College where there is strong support for American Indians. Actually there were 50 other Indian students there when she enrolled. From there she went to Stanford University for medical school and a surgical residency. This was a very unusual path for an Indian woman.

While in medical school and residency she felt very much separated from her Indian heritage and was glad to start her practice of surgery in the Indian Health Service and eventually to return to the Indian Hospital at Gallup, New Mexico, just fifty miles from the reservation where she grew up. This gave her the opportunity to learn more about Indian medicine and how to care for Indian patients.

While there she met her husband, a considerably younger Caucasian, and had her first child after a problem pregnancy. She sought the help of an Indian Medicine Man during this experience and felt much help from him. This is described very vividly.

Just eighteen years after she left Dartmouth she returned to be the Associate Dean for Minority and Student Affairs and to practice surgery and teach part time. There she hopes to share the Navajo philosophy of a balanced and harmonious life called "Walking in Beauty."

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This haunting memoir by a South African surgeon who has witnessed tremendous suffering across the globe is best read as his story, and not a war chronicle as the subtitle would suggest, since large chunks of the book are not about war in the dressing station sense of the term. That said, however, the war that rages inside the author continues throughout the book and gives the reader glimpses of wisdom gained during Kaplan's remarkable journey of life amidst death. The book is culled from journals of writing and sketches that he kept throughout his travels.

Kaplan's first crisis occurs when he joins fellow medical students in an anti-apartheid demonstration in Cape Town and, following the lead of a more senior student, Stefan, tends to the wounded and frightened after riot police attacked the demonstrators. Kaplan then gets the call of not only medicine as service, but surgery as service, when, as a neophyte doctor, he saves the life of a youth shot in the liver by the police.

This feat should not be underestimated, though the author writes with humility. Indeed, in recounting later incidents in which patients die, the odds tremendously stacked against the patients surviving anyway (a woman with disseminated intravascular coagulopathy and multiple organ failure, or the Kurdish boy in a refugee camp with a great hemorrhaging, septic wound), the author's self-chastisement is a painful reminder of how the physician suffers with each loss.

After a beautifully written prologue which begins, "I am a surgeon, some of the time" (p. 1), the book proceeds chronologically, each chapter named for the location of the action. Kaplan leaves South Africa to avoid military service and the fate that befell Stefan, who becomes an opioid addict after euthanizing a torture victim in a horrible scene of police brutality and violence. Kaplan's post-graduate training in England and BTA (Been to America) research stint heighten his sense of cynicism about hierarchy in English society and capitalistic forces in American medical research.

Ever the outsider, Kaplan first returns to Africa (treating victims of poverty, deprivation and violence), then sets off to war zones in Kurdistan, Mozambique, Burma (Myanmar), and Eritrea. In between, he works not only as a surgeon, but also a documentary filmmaker and a cruise ship and flight doctor. He avoids the more established medical humanitarian relief efforts, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, and instead prefers to work where no other ex-pat physician will go--enemy territory, front lines, and poorly equipped dressing stations.

Along the way he decides the number of people he has helped as a surgeon, particularly in Kurdistan, has been small compared to the potential to intervene in broader public health measures (he meets a Swiss water treatment engineer) and occupational health exposés to help abused victims (e.g., of mercury poisoning in South Africa and Brazil). The book ends with Kaplan studying to become an expert in occupational medicine, though, incongruously, in the heart of London's financial district where he treats stress-related illness.

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Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Brown, anthropologist and Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Drew University, describes the life, religion and healing practices of Marie Therese Alourdes Macena Margaux Kowalski, also known as Alourdes or Moma Lola, a priestess of Voodou, who emigrated to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince in Haiti at the age of 24. What began as an ethnographic research project on immigrant Haitians, turned into a deep personal friendship between Moma Lola and Brown, and a privileged look at the practices and patients of a priestess, and at the socio-cultural lifeworlds of the Haitian community in Brooklyn and in Haiti between 1978 and 1986.

The book presents an intimate description of an alternative healing tradition through a number of perspectives. Brown alternates between a personal, an analytical, and a descriptive narrative of Moma Lola’s own history and her encounters with patients. In some chapters, Brown fictionally reconstructs the patient’s stories, so that the book is part traditional ethnography, and part fiction.

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In the book’s Introduction, Dr. Cleaveland explains his personal need for real and fictional heroes. Seeing himself often as a victim of cruel childhood peers, he sought protectors and savored particularly the exploits of World War II heroes. His heroes, he notes, delivered him safely through childhood and adolescence.

Cleaveland describes seeing a documentary movie about Dr. Croydon Wassel in 1944; Dr. Wassel became his first personal hero. A book about Dr. Wassel was read by Cleaveland many times; later, as an adult, Cleaveland looked for the book again and set out to ascertain its authenticity. From extensive research he found Dr. Wassel to be far more courageous than he had anticipated--"studied, found not wanting."

The author was introduced to the story of Dr. Billie Dyer in 1992 through a collection of short stories. Dyer was a black physician who kept a diary during his eighteen months in service in the U.S. Medical Corp during the First World War. Cleaveland found a copy of the diary in the public library in Lincoln, Illinois and learned more about a new hero.

Other heroes he writes about were Dr. Woodrow Dodson, who served sixty years as a "domestic medical missionary"; and Dr. Lonnie Boaz, a black physician, the son of a victim of a hate crime, who became a well known ophthalmologist, husband, father, civic leader, and reformer after starting out as a painter, janitor, and army medic.

Cleaveland considers some of his patients to be heroes: Vera Gustafson, a World War II nurse whom he interviewed extensively, later adding historical information to her story; Paulette McGill, a childhood diabetic cared for by Dr. Cleaveland for twenty years; and an obese diabetic who became a "universal friend," teaching others about devotion and courage. Other patients were also deemed heroic, each for some special reason.

The longest story, saved till the last, is about Dr. Janusz Korczak, described by Dr. Cleaveland as the most heroic figure he knows of. Korczak was a Polish, Jewish pediatrician who devoted his life to improving the welfare of children in the Warsaw ghetto; he was deported to the Treblinka concentration camp with the children. (A movie that came out in 1990 dramatically tells this story.)

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Summary:

Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that thinking is not universally the same, in time or around the globe. Specifically, Asians and Westerners vary in what they perceive, how they process it, and what action they might take. Nisbett has studied seminal figures such as Aristotle and Confucius, the geographical and social origins of Greece and China, and clues from the languages involved.

He explains a series of polarities, which can be quickly sketched (Eastern first/then Western): relationships/action, choice; feelings/logic; interdependence/independence; circularity, cycles/linearity; field dependence/divisible categories; harmony/debate; ground/figure; context/focal object; setting/outcome; and multiple causes/single cause and effect. Nisbett has also conducted experiments with students of Eastern and Western backgrounds to demonstrate that such differences are still real.

Finally, he argues that, with globalization, the two traditions will merge.

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