Showing 431 - 440 of 786 Nonfiction annotations

Seeing Voices

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In this book Sacks takes the reader into the world of the prelingually deaf, a world in which spoken language is incomprehensible. He describes the visual language, Sign, and considers the development and culture of American Sign Language. Sacks evokes the conflict between those who seek to teach the deaf to communicate via voice and lip-reading and those who affirm Sign, the native culture of the deaf.

In the latter part of the book, Sacks re-creates the student rebellion at Gallaudet University in 1988 when a "hearing" president was chosen from among three finalists, two of whom were deaf. The back cover summarizes this book as "a provocative meditation on communication, biology, and culture."

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Albert Schweitzer. The Enigma

Bentley, James

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This book sketches the development of Schweitzer's ideas and accomplishments in theology, philosophy, musicology, and medicine. The author tends to pick up a theme at one time and then follow further developments on that theme at later points in Schweitzer's life. Thus, the book is not a comprehensive biography and it often departs from a strict chronological approach.

While there is some discussion of Schweitzer's "tortured" childhood and his later world-renown as the "jungle doctor," of Gabon, Bentley focuses on four intellectual and spiritual developments in Schweitzer's life. The first is his theological career, which led to the groundbreaking Quest for the Historical Jesus (1906) and subsequent theological books such as The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930).

The second is his philosophy of "reverence for life, "which was first fully articulated in Civilization and Ethics (1923). The third is Schweitzer's career as a musician, musicologist, and organ designer. Finally, Bentley traces the development of Schweitzer's ministry as a medical missionary in Central Africa.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

Brigid's Charge, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Virginia, has devoted his long career (37 years) to amassing and analyzing empirical evidence for reincarnation. In this book the journalist Tom Shroder describes Dr. Stevenson's work and gives a fascinating account of Stevenson's most recent field investigations in Lebanon and India.

The primary data supporting reincarnation are accounts of previous lives spontaneously reported by young children. This phenomenon is relatively common in cultures that accept reincarnation; for example, the Hindu and Druze peoples. In some cases the accuracy of details from reported past lives can be verified, even though there is also good evidence that the child (or anyone in his family or network of contacts) had no "external" way of learning the information.

Stevenson began studying such cases in the early 1960s and gradually developed a rigorous methodology for assessing and classifying the data. In Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and his other writings, Stevenson has presented hundreds of narratives, many of which seem prima facie convincing, except for the small problem that they fall completely outside the bounds of scientific orthodoxy.

As a participant observer, Shroder tells a sympathetic, yet questioning, story of Stevenson's investigation (or follow up) of a few recent cases. In the process, he presents a compelling portrait of the maverick 80-year-old psychiatrist.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, has devoted his career to the study of cases suggestive of reincarnation. The cases consist of narratives of young children who claim to remember past lives. The cases occur primarily in India, Sri Lanka, South Asia, West Africa, Lebanon, and among Northwestern Native Americans, in cultures and religions in which reincarnation is accepted. Stevenson and his colleagues have collected over 2000 such narratives, but only a much smaller number provide what he considers "strong" evidence.

In the latter cases, Stevenson has performed detailed, nearly contemporaneous investigations that appear to rule-out communication of any kind between the child's family and the relatives of the recently deceased person the child claims to be. In addition, many of the "strong" cases have birth defects or birthmarks at the exact sites of traumatic injuries in the deceased person's life.

This book is a shortened and popularized version of a scientific monograph entitled Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (also published by Praeger Press in 1997). Stevenson categorizes his cases by strength of evidence for a precisely located traumatic injury in the deceased person (i.e. simply remembered by the family, identified in medical records, or verified at autopsy). He also categorizes cases by the size and nature of the child's defect or birthmark.

In each chapter he presents a series of short narratives summarizing cases in a particular category, and comments on the weight and possible interpretations of the evidence. In Chapter 26 Stevenson analyzes a variety of explanations (including normal and paranormal possibilities), and concludes that the strongest of his cases are best explained by accepting the hypothesis of reincarnation (i.e. the discarnate personality of a recently dead person influencing the personality of a newborn child).

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The Private Life of Islam

Young, Ian

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Ian Young spent the summer of 1970 as a medical student working at a hospital in the province of Kabylia in Algeria. He was assigned to the Maternity department, where he worked primarily with two Bulgarian doctors. Most foreign medical personnel in Algeria at the time came from Eastern bloc countries, as "Islamic Socialism" was the official political system in the newly independent (1962) North African country. According to Young, obstetrical care for the mostly Berber women of the area was brutal, disorganized, antiquated, and dangerous.

Dr. Vasilev, the head of the department, is a passive and indecisive man, who spends most of his day reading the newspaper. Once roused from his lethargy, which doesn't happen very often, he demonstrates competence and concern for his patients. His colleague, Dr. Kostov, is an aggressively brutal man who introduces himself to pregnant patients by shoving his fist into their vaginas.

Both doctors excuse their behavior by saying, "We just can't do it here they way we do it in Bulgaria." For the most part, they do not use sterile technique, and although anesthetics are available, neither Kostov nor Vasilev typically use them. The Algerian nursing staff provides at least a modicum of organization and care in this dreadful environment.

At first Young approaches the situation with disbelief and anger. He then attempts to improve the quality of care, first by introducing a flow sheet for obstetrical care, and later by submitting a report on the poor conditions to the hospital director.

Mild-mannered Dr. Vasilev supports him, but no one uses the new flow sheets, and the Director considers the report a personal (and political) affront. Meanwhile, Ian Young presents the reader with a seemingly endless series of fascinating patient cases and interesting stories about hospital personnel, as well as about his excursions to various parts of Kabylia.

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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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