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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Death and Dying (page 1 of 2)

The Pain of Suicide by Dr Jo-Ann Rowland

 

Every suicide is an individual tragedy whose origins challenge our mental capacity. Suicide is a global phenomenon. Each year there are over 800,000 reported suicides worldwide and that is expected to increase to over 1.5 million by 2020. More people attempt suicide than die from suicide. Family-member survivors and communities are left with many unanswered questions, not understanding why the person chose to commit suicide. Persons responding to suicide and suicide attempts are very often not prepared for what they encounter and this exacerbates the problem. This book looks at the struggles of a high-risk people group and presents interventions and postventions proffered in a consultation forum.

Thank you to Authoright for this ARC!

Dr Rowland’s concern for those lost to suicide is evident in this well-researched book. She concentrates on the suicide rate in Guyana, South America, since this little country had the highest number of suicides in 2012 and 2014. Further into the book she examines some insights into the suicidal mind, the effect of religion on those who want to kill themselves, and a discussion of “psychache”, the ongoing mental, emotional, and psychological emotions experienced by suicidal people.

Regarding Guyana, suicide has historically been a part of the Indian experience, with an average yearly number of about 123,000. There are various predisposing factors, such as culture and sociology, which the author explores further in other chapters.

Hopelessness and suicidal ideation are common threads amongst all races, with the thought being that counseling (both for the depressed person and bereavement) would be helpful. The stigma and grief are nearly unbearable, and the act should not be glamorized. Regarding this last statement, the World Health Organization created guidelines for media reporting of suicides such that a phenomenon called “suicide contagion” does not occur. These guidelines include not placing blame, calling the act “completed” rather than “successful”, and highlight alternatives to suicide. These may appear obvious, but there are stories in the book where friends and relatives seemingly ignored or didn’t understand multiple warning signs given off, and someone died as a result of this.

Dr Rowland’s research was conducted through meetings with both relatives of, and survivors of, suicide attempts. Her goal was to determine why the suicide rate in Guyana was so high and to see if she could make a difference in this number. Transcripts of her meetings were also analyzed independently by two Guyanese, who applied both cultural and academic reason to their analysis. Intervention strategies were discussed by a panel of doctors and social workers after the research findings were examined. Some of these intervention strategies included community care groups, parenting/coping skills, school-based programs, and the establishment of drug courts. This last item is quite important, for pesticides and drugs are used as a method for suicide. Many Guyanese are farmers and have ready access to agricultural chemicals.

Reasons discovered for suicide included depression, substance abuse, and family dysfunction. Family conflicts arose out of cultural differences between children and parents, or marriages where the husband did not support his wife adequately. Guyanese families are structured around the patriarchal system, and “culture shock” can occur when mothers need to work to support the family and the children are left alone with no caregivers.

Suicide survivors expressed the pain of being misunderstood and unsupported by parents or family. There is also a stigma so forceful that one parent “self-discharged” her minor child, claiming the embarrassment of the attempt was too much for the family to bear.

The author concludes that lack of coping skills devalues the meaning of life, and drive these hurting individuals to seek “peace” via suicide. The reasons are the same no matter what country one is from, and there is heartache (or psychache) within every culture.

Dr Rowland has set up an organization in Guyana called Ephrathah, built specifically to engage those who are hurting. Counseling and persona development programs are offered to help reach those who are in despair, regardless of ethnicity or community status. I feel this organization will go a long way to help these vulnerable individuals.

I commend Dr Rowland for giving of her time and interest so freely. She is truly a caring soul who is seeking to mitigate suicidal ideation not only in Guyana, but all over the world. Her research can be translated into any culture in any country and needs to serve as a wakeup call to those who may have suicidal friends or relatives. Mental health can be a challenge at any age or stage, and we must all be willing to give that extra attention to someone who is depressed or hurting. That little bit may go a long way in saving a life. Please take the time to read this book and understand more about suicide. You can get your copy here.

Influenza by Jeremy Brown

On the 100th anniversary of the devastating pandemic of 1918, Jeremy Brown, a veteran ER doctor, explores the troubling, terrifying, and complex history of the flu virus, from the origins of the Great Flu that killed millions, to vexing questions such as: are we prepared for the next epidemic, should you get a flu shot, and how close are we to finding a cure?

While influenza is now often thought of as a common and mild disease, it still kills over 30,000 people in the US each year. Dr. Jeremy Brown, currently Director of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, expounds on the flu’s deadly past to solve the mysteries that could protect us from the next outbreak. In Influenza, he talks with leading epidemiologists, policy makers, and the researcher who first sequenced the genetic building blocks of the original 1918 virus to offer both a comprehensive history and a roadmap for understanding what’s to come.
Dr. Brown digs into the discovery and resurrection of the flu virus in the frozen victims of the 1918 epidemic, as well as the bizarre remedies that once treated the disease, such as whiskey and blood-letting. Influenza also breaks down the current dialogue surrounding the disease, explaining the controversy over vaccinations, antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, and the federal government’s role in preparing for pandemic outbreaks. Though 100 years of advancement in medical research and technology have passed since the 1918 disaster, Dr. Brown warns that many of the most vital questions about the flu virus continue to confound even the leading experts.
Influenza is an enlightening and unnerving look at a shapeshifting deadly virus that has been around long before people—and warns us that it may be many more years before we are able to conquer it for good.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

Yes, this is another book on the influenza pandemic of 1918 – my goal is to read them all. Seriously, it is always good to compare one with the other and possibly learn new information. One new angle with this book is that the author discusses the Tamiflu controversy in detail (I wasn’t aware of the issues behind this drug, and the backstory makes the juxtaposition with the pandemic particularly chilling). Another angle is that this book is not restricted to the 1918 outbreak; there is a discussion of the virus in general, what type of research has been done, and puts forth the probability of when/how another outbreak could be possible.

One of my favorite portions of the book was the story behind the exhumed victims and how the virus was recovered from their bodies. The author’s respect for their sacrifice shines clearly through in this section, which is detailed but not gory. The gore factor is minimal, compared to other books on influenza or diseases in particular.

The fact that the author is a medical doctor means that he’s done his research and can strike the balance between med-speak and conveying his ideas to the general public. The book is very easy to read and eminently understandable. I read this over the course of a few days and it kept me interested throughout. It is always refreshing when an author can take a subject and provide a fresh, relevant look at it.

You can pick up your own copy here.

The Atlas of Disease by Sandra Hempel

 

Behind every disease is a story, a complex narrative woven of multiple threads, from the natural history of the disease, to the tale of its discovery and its place in history.
But what is vital in all of this is how the disease spreads and develops. In The Atlas of Disease, Sandra Hempel reveals how maps have uncovered insightful information about the history of disease, from the seventeenth century plague maps that revealed the radical idea that diseases might be carried and spread by humans, to cholera maps in the 1800s showing the disease was carried by water, right up to the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s and the recent Ebola outbreak.

Crucially, The Atlas of Disease will also explore how cartographic techniques have been used to combat epidemics by revealing previously hidden patterns. These discoveries have changed the course of history, affected human evolution, stimulated advances in medicine and shaped the course of countless lives.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting my wish to access this ARC! For anyone who is interested in the history of disease, this book is a dream come true. The author delves into each disease with a thoughtful manner and straightforward way, using maps of the world to show the spread of each illness. These maps add a new dimension of understanding to the text, and underscore how devastating the spread of disease can be. The trail of germs is traced across the continents for each disease, adding a quiet horror to the author’s words.  This alone makes the book worth buying – no other book I’ve read with this subject has illustrations quite like this. Interspersed in the chapters are other bits of artwork, either paintings of people suffering or government posters warning townfolk of the ravages of the flu, yellow fever, measles, and the like. THE ATLAS OF DISEASE stands out head and shoulders among other novels in this genre.

There are 4 sections to the book: airborne, waterborne, insects and animals, and human to human. Each chapter in the section then outlines a disease, from AIDS to Zika. The opening page has the disease name, the causal agent, transmission, symptoms, incidence and deaths, prevalence, prevention, treatment, and global strategy. For example, diptheria’s incidence and deaths statement lets us know that the germ causes around 5,000 cases per year worldwide, with 5-10% cases being fatal. The global strategy notes that there are childhood vaccination programs, but the World Health Organization (WHO) describes it as a “forgotten” disease. On the opposite page there is a painting by Francisco de Goya showing a man holding a child on his lap, supporting his head with his left hand while he probes the child’s mouth with his right. The work is entitled El Lazarillo de Tormes or El Garrotillo (“Diptheria”). When you turn the page you see illustrations of how the illness attacks the lining of the throat, causing the victim to strangle and suffocate.

I can honestly say I have learned more from this book than from many others I’ve read. The writer’s style is straightforward, sharing facts without drama, and extremely easy to comprehend. You won’t need a medical background to appreciate ATLAS. The author’s fascination with these illnesses is clearly portrayed on every page, as well as her depth of research. I cannot say enough superlatives about this book – it is far and away the best work I’ve read this year.  If you are a devotee of disease, you will treasure this work forever.  And for those of you who are not – please still read this. You will learn, you will be shocked, and you will appreciate the fragility of life.

Pick up your copy here.

Glimmerglass Girl by Holly Walrath

 

Glimmerglass Girl is a collection of poetry and images about womanhood and femininity. This debut collection from author Holly Lyn Walrath explores life, love, marriage, abuse, self-harm, the body, death, and alcoholism through the lens of a woman’s heart. It takes readers through a speculative and fantastical world of fairy tales and unicorns where femininity is as powerful and delicate as a glass-winged butterfly.

 

 

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This thin chapbook of poems seems at once light and dark, brilliant yet incomprehensible. I read through each offering twice and came away no wiser, despite preparing myself to find meaning in the words. A poem that begins “I am night and a thousand stars hurtle through/my skin, punching through the ether” sets the reader up for a powerful experience. It’s over a few short paragraphs later, a story not tied up neatly, only words and a mental picture that creates an unsatisfactory feeling. Not unsatisfactory in a bad way – just a longing for something more to grasp, a clearer picture of sorts.

The author does have a way with words, stringing them together like a delicate necklace that has its own beauty, yet doesn’t match with anything in the closet. That is not to say it is a wasted purchase -understand that these poems may not meet with your expectations. They are an acquired taste, revealing more each time they are read. Two particular poems became my favorites: I Swallowed the Moon and Blue Cadillac. I feel that Cadillac is the most mainstream work, easily understood, with fondness for the title character (?) shining through easily. I too, remember the classic cars with wistful nostalgia, as the poem notes:

And somehow in this memory of you/your massive lines like some primordial behemoth/long since dead and buried/in ice, the very blueness of you, I may have/remembered myself, another classic beauty.

It was so easy to conjure up big fins in the Texas heat as I absorbed this poem. Images formed freely in my head, unlike some of the author’s other writings in this book. Sometimes the final lines give off a hint of sarcasm, of impropriety or dismissal; other times the end is so far away from the beginning you don’t know what to think. There is a strong undercurrent of feminism and heartbreak in the words, and at times I wondered what experiences the author had, to describe in such a way.

All and all, not the worst way to spend time reading. Poetry is more resonant with people; either you love it or hate it. This little book was pleasant to read, despite the fact that I came away from most of it confused. Read it and let me know what you think.

You can get your own copy here.

Under The Knife by Arnold Van de Laar

In Under the Knife, surgeon Arnold Van de Laar uses his own experience and expertise to tell the witty history of the past, present, and future of surgery.
From the story of the desperate man from seventeenth-century Amsterdam who grimly cut a stone out of his own bladder to Bob Marley’s deadly toe, Under the Knife offers all kinds of fascinating and unforgettable insights into medicine and history via the operating theatre.
What happens during an operation? How does the human body respond to being attacked by a knife, a bacterium, a cancer cell or a bullet? And, as medical advances continuously push the boundaries of what medicine can cure, what are the limits of surgery?
From the dark centuries of bloodletting and of amputations without anaesthetic to today’s sterile, high-tech operating theatres, Under the Knife is both a rich cultural history and a modern anatomy class for us all.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

I have read many medical history books before but none of them were as gruesomely interesting as this one. The juxtaposition of the gory surgeries and the dry writing makes for an excellent read. So many different surgeries are discussed in this book, it seems, that there should be something for everyone. If you are a fan of spurting blood, swollen intestines, gangrene, and reading about a man performing surgery on himself without anesthesia, then this book is definitely for you. If you are the squeamish type, stop reading immediately and find something else.

Each one of the 28 chapters discusses a different type of surgery, complete with history and famous examples. Some of the people van de Laar writes about are JFK, Bob Marley, Lenin, and Napoleon. I can honestly say that I learned multiple new facts in each chapter. This, plus the straight-up medical language (that may be incomprehensible to most people) made this book a winner for me. I have a medical background so this was an easy read, but I can see most people trying to figure out some of the jargon and getting discouraged. The author does provide many explanations and word sources (such as Latin or Italian) as well as a glossary at the end, but there is also a good deal of medical verbiage. The chapter also brings us into the present time, and how this surgery is performed using clean instruments and updated techniques.

As I mentioned before, the gore factor is extremely high. I don’t recall ever experiencing this level of detail, even in books containing Hannibal Lecter. A simple sentence telling us that the Sun King only bathed once or twice in his lifetime, and generously opened a window so a visitor could have fresh air speaks volumes. Can’t you just smell the stench from here?!?

There are also chapters on eunuchs, ancient Rome, and bloodletting. The detail in which van de Laar describes each procedure is magnificent. Facts just keep unrolling on the page, with minimal asides for the human detail found in so many other books written by doctors (such as Sandeep Jauhar or Atul Gawande). The book is nearly devoid of emotion; there are only procedures and facts.

I absolutely loved this book. I also may never be able to get some of the gory images out of my mind – but that’s ok.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up

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Natural Causes: The Epidemic of Wellness by Barbara Ehrenreich

A razor-sharp polemic which offers an entirely new understanding of our bodies, ourselves, and our place in the universe, Natural Causes describes how we over-prepare and worry way too much about what is inevitable. One by one, Ehrenreich topples the shibboleths that guide our attempts to live a long, healthy life — from the importance of preventive medical screenings to the concepts of wellness and mindfulness, from dietary fads to fitness culture.

But Natural Causes goes deeper — into the fundamental unreliability of our bodies and even our “mind-bodies,” to use the fashionable term. Starting with the mysterious and seldom-acknowledged tendency of our own immune cells to promote deadly cancers, Ehrenreich looks into the cellular basis of aging, and shows how little control we actually have over it. We tend to believe we have agency over our bodies, our minds, and even over the manner of our deaths. But the latest science shows that the microscopic subunits of our bodies make their own “decisions,” and not always in our favor.
We may buy expensive anti-aging products or cosmetic surgery, get preventive screenings and eat more kale, or throw ourselves into meditation and spirituality. But all these things offer only the illusion of control.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Natural Causes is like having two books in one. The beginning section discusses whether eating “right” and exercise will truly extend our life expectancy, or if those admonitions are erroneous. The author makes some good points, while others seem a bit dubious to me. Her writing is at times self-deprecating and humorous; other times erudite.

The second part of the book is a bit dry, as she delves into the philosophical side of what is “self”, and how we think about death and dying. There is also well written chapters about inflammation, cancer, and how we may be doomed to succumb despite positive thinking and the best efforts of our oncologists.

As a long distance runner, I felt an uncomfortable feeling as the author worked through debunking exercise “myths”. Did I agree with her or not? I agreed with the section on medical ritual, as explained by Stanford medical professor Abraham Verghese during one of his TED talks. He discusses a breast cancer patient who chooses a less prestigious facility over one with valet parking, a welcoming atrium, etc. The reason? The first facility actually gave her a physical exam, using touch and interaction. If I visit a doctor and do not get my eyes, ears, or lung sounds assessed, I feel cheated. Ritual displays, whether they are a placebo or not, satisfy and calm me. I also felt a kinship with the chapter on mindfulness and ADHD, as she discusses electronic addiction and how that is depleting our attention span.

As I read on I realized that I did not agree with her decision to shun yearly exams (her thoughts are that the doctors are “looking for problems that remain undetectable to me”). The author also discusses repetitive x-rays of the teeth, mammograms and their tendency towards false positives, and colonoscopy.

When she started noting the evidence of “overdiagnosing” due to the multitude of various health screenings available, I simultaneously agreed and disagreed. A 90-year old woman does not need a mammogram; a 30-year old should get Pap smears and yearly bloodwork.

The chapter entitled Cellular Treason was most interesting; explaining that perhaps all the steps we take to remain healthy may be for naught; our cells will do what they want regardless. It was at this point in the book that the writing became more scientific and less opinionated, and leaned towards the dry and almost dull. I rather enjoyed the cantankerous, tinfoil hat-like musings from the beginning.

Ehrenreich may be a detractor of medicine, but she is no dope. She is intelligent and can put a sentence together well. This book is certain to spark debate, which hopefully was her intent. Each chapter has the ability to appeal to a wide range of people, as well as invite criticism. I feel better prepared to face my doctor after reading it.

Want your own copy? Head over to Amazon and grab it!

 

Playing the Ponies and Other Medical Mysteries Solved by Stuart B. Mushlin

With over forty years of experience as a sought after diagnostician, Dr. Stuart Mushlin has cracked his share of medical mysteries, ones in which there are bigger gambles than playing the ponies at the track. Some of his patients show up with puzzling symptoms, calling for savvy medical detective work. Others seem to present cut-and-dry cases, but they turn out to be suffering from rare or serious conditions.

In Playing the Ponies and Other Medical Mysteries Solved, Dr. Mushlin shares some of the most intriguing cases he has encountered, revealing the twists and turns of each patient’s diagnosis and treatment process. Along the way, he imparts the secrets to his success as a medical detective—not specialized high-tech equipment, but time-honored techniques like closely observing, touching, and listening to patients. He also candidly describes cases where he got things wrong, providing readers with honest insights into both the joys and dilemmas of his job.
Dr. Mushlin does not just treat diseases; he treats people. And this is not just a book about the ailments he diagnosed; it is also about the scared, uncertain, ailing individuals he helped in the process. Filled with real-life medical stories you’ll have to read to believe, Playing the Ponies is both a suspenseful page-turner and a heartfelt reflection on a life spent caring for patients.

Thanks, Rutgers University Press, for this review copy!

This book should be enjoyed most by those in the medical field. It’s a no-frills, straightforward collection of odd cases and the mental acuity needed to solve them. There is minimal gore, yet there is excellent description of the patient and how he is suffering. Each chapter is a new disease process, with the thorough history given, then the doctor’s thought process. Most of the cases have an ending; there are a few where the patient is not seen again or fails to return for a recheck visit.

Some cases are difficult merely because the patient is not forthcoming with complete medical history, where others are truly “zebras” instead of horses (There is a famous statement that notes when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras). Each case can be read on its own, with no continuity between chapters – great for absorbing a single chapter before bed.

Mushlin notes that he was an English major before he went to medical school, something that has held him in great stead as he examines patients. He notes how important it is to listen to their words as well as the silence between the words. Imagine that – a doctor taking the time to actually listen to their patient’s complaints! Mushlin’s quiet and caring bedside manner shines through on every page, even when he is handling an especially recalcitrant patient he does his best to care for her.

All four of the reviews noted on the back of the book jacket are from medical doctors, and expound on the joy of reading this book. Most of the reviews online by lay people are positive, except for someone who calls the writing wooden, and feels the stories are too short. I feel the reviewer was not familiar with this type of book; namely, a kind that minimizes drama and emphasizes the medicine. Mushlin’s style is plain and full of information. I understood everything he was saying, because I am a veterinary nurse and quite familiar with the workings of the body. In fact, I can say this is one of the few books I have read that gave so much detail on each patient before the diagnosis was discussed. I felt as if I were part of Dr Mushlin’s team with the patient right in front of me.

The only part of the book that I have a complaint about is in the chapter Learning From The Patient. The author notes that they practiced studies in a dog lab, so as to learn about basic physiologic processes. He goes on to note that “…the human body is not the same as a dog’s, humans are much more complex…”. This frustrated me, as I feel that many canine and human diseases are shared, such as diabetes, cancer, Addison’s, and neurologic issues. Each species is a complex being, similar yet different. I took his statement as demeaning to dogs and animals in general. Veterinary medicine is just as complex as human medicine, and requires the same mental and emotional effort to heal those patients. Perhaps if Dr Mushlin spent some time at an emergency veterinary hospital he would understand my feedback.

That concern was the only negative feedback I have for PLAYING THE PONIES – I found it a stimulating and fascinating read; educational without being taxing. Every patient should have a Dr Mushlin caring for him.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0813570557″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Counting Backwards ( A Doctor’s Notes on Anesthesia) by Henry Jay Przybylo

For many of the 40 million Americans who undergo anesthesia each year, it is the source of great fear and fascination. From the famous first demonstration of anesthesia in the Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846 to today’s routine procedure that controls anxiety, memory formation, pain relief, and more, anesthesia has come a long way. But it remains one of the most extraordinary, unexplored corners of the medical world.
In Counting Backwards, Dr. Henry Jay Przybylo—a pediatric anesthesiologist with more than thirty years of experience—delivers an unforgettable account of the procedure’s daily dramas and fundamental mysteries. Przybylo has administered anesthesia more than 30,000 times in his career—erasing consciousness, denying memory, and immobilizing the body, and then reversing all of these effects—on newborn babies, screaming toddlers, sullen teenagers, even a gorilla. With compassion and candor, he weaves his experiences into an intimate exploration of the nature of consciousness, the politics of pain relief, and the wonder of modern medicine.

Filled with intensity and humanity, with moments of near-disaster, life-saving success, and simple grace, Counting Backwards is for anyone curious about what happens after we lose consciousness.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

There is nothing as fascinating as anesthesia. The very idea of being in a state where your insides could be cut, manipulated, and sewn back together is mind-blowing; yet this happens on a daily basis all over the world. COUNTING BACKWARDS is the personal account of a person with intimate knowledge and respect for this phenomenon.

He shares stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly surgeries that he has overseen. From babies to gorillas, he has seen more than his share. The book is not just medical jargon; he recounts his interactions with patients and shares some of his most intimate thoughts with us. We learn what his routine is when setting up for a surgery – and why it never varies. We learn the history and development of anesthesia drugs – and why he creates a new plan for each patient. Dr Przybylo is a caring and meticulous man, one that I would want in the surgery suite with me.

This memoir came about when he enrolled in the MFA program at Goucher College; a step that is admirable and daunting. His professors must have loved encouraging and developing his writing style, as the story flows as smoothly as isoflurane into the lungs. The good doctor draws from his years of experience as he discusses patients, medicine, and humanity. Each story has a moral of sorts – they don’t always have a happy ending – but there is always a lesson to be learned.

It takes a special person to have the intelligence to understand the workings of anesthesia, while also possessing the compassion to care for people. The human race can be a frustrating and ugly bunch while sick and/or scared – I’ve been one of those people a few times. Dr Przybylo is kind enough, as well as strong enough, and that is what made this book stand out for me. There was just enough anesthetic detail and gore to keep me interested, while keeping the human condition firmly front and center. This book would be a wonderful addition to someone’s medical library.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0393254437″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

THE EDUCATION OF A CORONER by John Bateson

In the vein of Dr. Judy Melinek’s Working Stiff, an account of the hair-raising and heartbreaking cases handled by the coroner of Marin County, California throughout his four decades on the job—from high-profile deaths to serial killers, to Golden Gate Bridge suicides.
Marin County, California is a study in contradictions. Its natural beauty attracts thousands of visitors every year, yet the county also is home to San Quentin Prison, one of the oldest and largest penitentiaries in the country. Marin ranks in the top one percent of counties nationwide in terms of affluence and overall health, yet it is far above the norm in drug overdoses and alcoholism, and comprises a large percentage of suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ken Holmes worked in the Marin County Coroner’s Office for thirty-six years, starting as a death investigator and ending as the three-term, elected coroner. As he grew into the job—which is different from what is depicted on television—Holmes learned a variety of skills, from finding hidden clues at death scenes, interviewing witnesses effectively, managing bystanders and reporters, preparing testimony for court to notifying families of a death with sensitivity and compassion. He also learned about different kinds of firearms, all types of drugs—prescription and illegal—and about certain unexpected and potentially fatal phenomena such as autoeroticism.

Complete with poignant anecdotes, The Education of a Coroner provides a firsthand and fascinating glimpse into the daily life of a public servant whose work is dark and mysterious yet necessary for society to function.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Fans of true crime will love this book. Coroner Ken Holmes’ cases are described in great, gory detail, along with his thought process for cause of death. Some go unsolved, but all of them are a part of him.

Holmes is a self-deprecating man, which helped him move up the ladder within his department. As each case unfolds, the author portrays him with the right amount of confidence and respect. Some cases are more convoluted than others, so I am not sure who is at fault when the particulars get confusing. There were times where I had to read over the cast of characters a few times in order to determine who killed who, who had the motive, and other items of note. That is really the only caveat I have about this book – otherwise it’s an enjoyable, if dark, read. There are plenty of cases to appeal to everyone’s interest, whether it be prurient or otherwise. Holmes has an outstanding memory and usually has a philosophical turn when sharing his stories.

I got the impression that he is proud of his work, pays great attention to detail, and truly cares about those affected by the victim’s death. He emphasizes personal contact and shows empathy to those left behind.

Any book that teaches me something is a gem. In reading THE EDUCATION OF A CORONER I learned about rigor mortis (starts at the jaw, which is the strongest muscle in the body), suicide (apparently the Golden Gate Bridge was a mecca for those seeking to shuffle off this mortal coil) and government (how to work your way up through the ranks).

This was an excellent departure for the norm for me, and a thoroughly wonderful experience. If you have an interest in true crime or want to know what really happens during an investigation, pick this up. You won’t be sorry.

You can grab your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1501168223″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

CATCHING BREATH by Kathryn Lougheed

With more than a million victims every year–more than any other disease, including malaria–and antibiotic resistance now found in every country worldwide, tuberculosis is once again proving itself to be one of the smartest killers that humanity has ever faced. But it’s hardly surprising considering how long it’s had to hone its skills. Forty-thousand years ago, our ancestors set off from the cradle of civilization on their journey towards populating the planet. Tuberculosis hitched a lift and came with us, and it’s been there ever since; waiting, watching, and learning.
The organism responsible, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, has had plenty of time to adapt to its chosen habitat–human lungs–and has learned through natural selection to be an almost perfect pathogen. Using our own immune cells as a Trojan Horse to aid its spread, it’s come up with clever ways to avoid being killed by antibiotics. But patience has been its biggest lesson–it can enter into a latent state when times are tough, only to come back to life when a host’s immune system is compromised. Today, more than one million people die of the disease every year and around one-third of the world’s population are believed to be infected. That’s more than two billion people. Throw in the compounding problems of drug resistance, the HIV epidemic, and poverty, and it’s clear that tuberculosis remains one of the most serious problems in world medicine.
Catching Breath follows the history of TB through the ages, from its time as an infection of hunter-gatherers to the first human villages, which set it up with everything it needed to become the monstrous disease it is today, through to the perils of industrialization and urbanization. It goes on to look at the latest research in fighting the disease, with stories of modern scientific research, interviews with doctors on the TB frontline, and the personal experiences of those affected by the disease.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, the research and science are excellent and multilayered. You can easily discern the love the author has for tuberculosis and how to contain it. On the other hand, some of her attempts at humor and lightening the mood seemed out of place to me. A reader who is not familiar with pop culture may find some of her sentences confusing – such as:

“Basically, in some settings, the machines are just sitting there like big ugly espresso machines that no one really knows how to use. Even if someone does get the urge to brew some coffee, George Clooney has used the last cassette and not put in a new order”.

I would be totally immersed in the science aspect and she would throw something like that in there from time to time. It seemed as if she was attempting to lighten the serious subject up with these humorous asides, but it just didn’t work for me.

There are a lot of facts and statistics about TB, which are staggering when you stop to consider how many people have been, and are, suffering from this disease. Certainly TB doesn’t get the airtime of, let’s say, AIDS or cancer – but its presence is still felt daily in places like Africa or India. I hadn’t realized how prevalent it still is, or how stricken these countries are.

The writer goes deep into the origin of TB and the different ways scientists are trying to defeat it. It’s a canny bacteria, though, and has the ability to mutate or take advantage of other sicknesses in the body. After reading CATCHING BREATH, I know more about TB than I ever have; from the obvious to the minutiae, the author gives us everything she’s got. I definitely appreciate her effort but the writing style was at times too dry, too broadly humorous or too rambling. Maybe a bit of editing would do the trick? In any case, don’t avoid this book if you are a fan of diseases – just be prepared for a little strangeness. You will be educated, amazed, and humbled by this tenacious germ.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1472930347″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

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