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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: History (Non-Fiction) (page 1 of 2)

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.

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

.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE MILLION COPY BESTSELLER SAPIENS

Sapiens showed us where we came from. Homo Deus looked to the future. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century explores the present. In this new book, Harari helps us to grapple with a world that is increasingly hard to comprehend. How can we protect ourselves from nuclear war, ecological cataclysms and technological disruptions? What can we do about the epidemic of fake news? Which civilization dominates the world – the West, China, Islam? What can we do about terrorism?
With his trademark clarity and vision, Harari takes us on a thrilling journey into today’s most urgent issues as well as turning to more individual concerns. The golden thread running through this exhilarating new book is the challenge of maintaining our focus and attention in the face of constant and destabilizing change. Ultimately what we and our children will need is mental stability, compassion, resilience and reason. This is a crucial part of our ongoing education in the 21st Century.

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

Once again, Harari has taken his unique perspective on life, economics, technology, and humanity and summarized his thoughts in an easy to read and thought-provoking book. At times terrifying, humorous, and learned, Harari applies his unique take on things such as biometric sensors that help us make decisions and the current state of politics today. His previous books discussed the past and the future; this one concentrates on the present (mostly) with an eye to the future. Statements such as “Once AI makes better decisions than us about careers and perhaps even relationships, our concept of humanity and of life will have to change” are equally interesting and scary. The author paints a picture of a 1984-like world where 1% of humanity owns all the wealth, property and beauty and the rest of us live a nearly decision-free existence.

Harari’s style is easy to digest with sly humor interspersed among the caveats. I think his main goal is to get the reader to consider our own humanity and what we can do to ensure we all stay “human” and connected. For those who have read his other books (Sapiens and Homo Deus) the themes will be familiar. He touches on religion, terrorism, and technology with equal strength. He notes in multiple places that our personal information is being taken from us slowly via Facebook and other sites, and this will have a bigger impact on our future lives more than we think. Part of me wants to be worried, and the other part feels that I’ll be too old to matter when/if that ever comes to be.

21 Lessons was a bit drier than his other two works – that being said I think Homo Deus was my favorite. That does not make this work any less important, however. There is definitely something to be learned from the book, even if it just makes you more aware of the multitude of problems in the world today.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up  here.

 

 

MED SCHOOL UNCENSORED by Richard Beddingfield

[easyazon_link identifier=”0399579702″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]Med School Uncensored: The Insider’s Guide to Surviving Admissions, Exams, Residency, and Sleepless Nights in the Call Room[/easyazon_link]

An entertaining insider’s guide to the good, the bad, and the ugly of med school–with everything pre-med and med students need to know, from day one, to maximize opportunities and avoid mistakes.
Cardiothoracic anesthesiologist and recent med school grad Dr. Richard Beddingfield serves as an unofficial older brother for pre-med and incoming med students–dishing on all the stuff he would’ve wanted to know from the beginning in order to make the most of med school’s opportunities, while staying sane through the gauntlets of applying to and succeeding at med school, residency, fellowship, and starting work as a new physician. With advice from additional recent Ivy League med school grads and top-tier hospital residents, this all-in-one guide is a must-have for everyone who dreams of becoming a doctor.

 

Many thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Richard Beddingfield is a kind and thoughtful man. Why do I say that? Because he spent a lot of time on creating a book to help pre-med students decide if that was the right career path for them. I can imagine graduates learning about this and saying “Why didn’t I have this to guide me??”.

MED SCHOOL UNCENSORED takes you from start to finish, explaining the tests, interviews, reasoning, and opportunities you will experience on the path to become a licensed doctor. He plays devil’s advocate; which I found refreshing – if your grades here are lower than peer X, then you need to do better on this; if your grades still don’t improve by this date, consider another career; no, there is no way to do this if you don’t do that; etc.

Each chapter represents a different step on the journey, with examples, personal stories, and the “why” behind it all. There is even some history thrown in comparing how things were done in the past and how they have changed. This is the kind of book that every type of career needs, to help someone make a decision on what learning path they want to take. The author notes everything important with great detail, using easy to understand examples. Nothing is sugar coated here – there is honest discussion of the ups and downs, pitfalls and joys of becoming a doctor. Bedingfield’s writing is clean and smooth, easy to digest, and generally benign.

There is not much of a plot to comment on in this review; but I will say I enjoyed the progression of the chapters. Things went from simple to complicated  in the order that they needed to; and it will be easy for the reader to grasp what comes next on the journey.

Anyone that is considering going to med school should pick this up before they finish high school, so as to obtain the proper education and extracurriculars needed to create an outstanding CV. This is exactly the book that should be in a parent’s or guidance counselor’s arsenal.

 

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0399579702″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

radium

The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice…

As World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.

A rich, historical narrative written in a sparkling voice, The Radium Girls is the first book that fully explores the strength of extraordinary women in the face of almost impossible circumstances and the astonishing legacy they left behind.

Many thanks to NetGalley for this advanced reading copy!

From the moment I started reading THE RADIUM GIRLS I was enthralled. The author’s goal for the reader to learn about each individual girl is thoughtful and ambitious. This is truly a book where the characters are at the forefront of the story. We see how each one, eager to earn a living, found Radium Dial and sealed their fate. The author handles the tragedy with diplomacy and underscored, yet effective use of detail, both medical and non (such as when one of the ill-fated girls catches a glimpse of herself in a mirror and sees her bones glowing through her skin. She realizes she has radiation poisoning and promptly faints.).

As I read, I became infuriated and frustrated with the way that the girls were lied to and manipulated by the company. Banking upon their innocence, the “doctors” that examined them kept the true results hidden, while telling them that they were the picture of health. Over and over, they would experience a toothache or jaw pain; the harbinger of things to come. Insidiously things progressed to such a degree that walking or eating without pain was impossible.  Thankfully, finally, the stars aligned and  the case was brought to court. I am still amazed that there wasn’t more public outcry at their plight; this would never happen today. (Or would it? See the author’s epilogue.)

The author’s style is clean and easy to read; letting the story shine through without calling attention to how it’s being said. Once the “how” overshadows the “what”, I lose patience with a book. The writing flowed naturally here, letting emotions build and always keeping the girls front and center.

Each life is carefully, lovingly recreated – all the hopes, dreams and horror each Radium Girl experienced. By making each “girl” have a background, this brings them to life and makes this tragedy more real. There are so many moments in this book that made me stop to think about these poor victims – if they were men, would things have progressed as far as they did? These lives were truly taken for granted to further Radium Dial’s needs. I’m not sure which is more terrifying; the fact that radium has a half life of 1600 years (meaning their bodies are still emitting radiation from the grave) or that no one thought to care more about these women who were clearly suffering. Even the dimunitive “girls” is simultaneously endearing and dismissive, if you think about it.

THE RADIUM GIRLS was one of the best books I’ve read in a while, partly because the subject is fascinating, and because it allowed me to feel a gamut of emotions; to have me truly invested in the story and its outcome. The strength these women possessed is evident on every page, keeping the tension high and making them heroines regardless of how they were treated.

Kudos to the author for illuminating their lives as she did! She took these “statistics” and made them human…forcing us all to think about how the girls were treated as disposable. The description of the court battles is very detailed, further underscoring the evil corporation’s plans to try to drag out the proceedings, hoping the women would die before they would have to appear in court.

I have nothing bad to say about this book; there is history, pathos, hope, and humanity on every page. This should be required reading in high school, both to keep these girl’s memories alive, and to prevent suffering like this from ever happening again.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B01N7KMS7X” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Doctors At War by Mark De Rond

doctors

Doctors at War is a candid account of a trauma surgical team based, for a tour of duty, at a field hospital in Helmand, Afghanistan. Mark de Rond tells of the highs and lows of surgical life in hard-hitting detail, bringing to life a morally ambiguous world in which good people face impossible choices and in which routines designed to normalize experience have the unintended effect of highlighting war’s absurdity. With stories that are at once comical and tragic, de Rond captures the surreal experience of being a doctor at war. He lifts the cover on a world rarely ever seen, let alone written about, and provides a poignant counterpoint to the archetypical, adrenaline-packed, macho tale of what it is like to go to war.

Here the crude and visceral coexist with the tender and affectionate. The author tells of well-meaning soldiers at hospital reception, there to deliver a pair of legs in the belief that these can be reattached to their comrade, now in mid-surgery; of midsummer Christmas parties and pancake breakfasts and late-night sauna sessions; of interpersonal rivalries and banter; of caring too little or too much; of tenderness and compassion fatigue; of hell and redemption; of heroism and of playing God. While many good firsthand accounts of war by frontline soldiers exist, this is one of the first books ever to bring to life the experience of the surgical teams tasked with mending what war destroys.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing this review copy!

The author starts out by saying that this book was never supposed to be published, due to the subject matter and the way it was perceived to be handled. That only added more intrigue to the story, to me, and I was eager to begin reading.

The story is akin to the book/TV series MASH, with beleaguered surgeons, war all around them, stress, and dark ways to relieve the boredom. There is a great deal of loss of life complicated by military rules and the Hippocratic Oath – beware, as the injuries are horrific and discussed in great detail.

The author is British; so I expected his writing style to be a bit different from American writers. In fact, I even welcomed it, as I look forward to non-American cadences and dialects in books. What I hadn’t bargained for was uneven writing with obscure phrasing. At times it’s hard to understand who is saying what, and there was no deep insight made on the choices the doctors had to make. At the 75% mark I realized I had not really absorbed anything meaningful except that war is hell, these surgeons were doing the best they could, and sometimes there was strangeness (the usual black humor and Christmas in July) to help the soldier’s mental states. The same type of story was repeated over and over again (wounded too badly, euthanized with pain meds/crashing boredom dealt with by playing card games and trying to stay cool in the desert/occasional platitude about life) without variance or emotion.

Somehow this writer managed to make a wartime hospital seem dull. The characters are an amalgam, and so perhaps could not have been made more detailed; but I think it would have been better if he had given a little more detail about why they were doctors, what made this tour of duty different from others, etc.

It’s a shame that such an important subject matter was reduced to an unsatisfying bite of pablum, as there is a need to understand what the military deals with during extended conflicts. Heart of Darkness, Catch-22, and On Call In Hell expressed the story in a more readable and gratifying way. I gave up at the abovementioned 75% mark; something I don’t do often, but I just didn’t want to waste any more time. Great subject – bad handling.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1501705482″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich

patient hm

 

In 1953, a twenty-seven-year-old factory worker named Henry Molaison—who suffered from severe epilepsy—received a radical new version of the then-common lobotomy, targeting the most mysterious structures in the brain. The operation failed to eliminate Henry’s seizures, but it did have an unintended effect: Henry was left profoundly amnesic, unable to create long-term memories. Over the next sixty years, Patient H.M., as Henry was known, became the most studied individual in the history of neuroscience, a human guinea pig who would teach us much of what we know about memory today.

Patient H.M. is, at times, a deeply personal journey. Dittrich’s grandfather was the brilliant, morally complex surgeon who operated on Molaison—and thousands of other patients. The author’s investigation into the dark roots of modern memory science ultimately forces him to confront unsettling secrets in his own family history, and to reveal the tragedy that fueled his grandfather’s relentless experimentation—experimentation that would revolutionize our understanding of ourselves.

Dittrich uses the case of Patient H.M. as a starting point for a kaleidoscopic journey, one that moves from the first recorded brain surgeries in ancient Egypt to the cutting-edge laboratories of MIT. He takes readers inside the old asylums and operating theaters where psychosurgeons, as they called themselves, conducted their human experiments, and behind the scenes of a bitter custody battle over the ownership of the most important brain in the world.

Patient H.M. combines the best of biography, memoir, and science journalism to create a haunting, endlessly fascinating story, one that reveals the wondrous and devastating things that can happen when hubris, ambition, and human imperfection collide.

 

Many thanks to NetGalley for this ARC.

This book is more than a memoir; more than an expose of the lobotomy trade; more than a poignant tale of a man whose life was largely lived in the present moment. It’s an unsettling view of a medical procedure touted as something to make willful women “compliant” and violent men “placid”. The imagery of the procedure itself is even more eerie – the author describes the hippocampus as “being sucked up” by the vacuum used to perform the surgery. Implements such as a trephine drill, a scalpel, and forceps are used to obliterate parts of the brain responsible for making each of us human. Patients vomit or sing during the surgery, their brain sending out chaotic impulses. Afterwards, they are a shell of their former self, sometimes mute, dull, or forgetful.

Patient H.M.  was the most intensively studied lobotomy “victim”, and his journey from epileptic to amnesiac is well chronicled here. Adding to the drama is that the grandfather of the author (Dr William Scofield) is the surgeon that operated on H.M.

There is backstabbing and intrigue within the medical community as well; one of H.M.’s fiercest protectors, neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin, may have destroyed much of her written notes on H.M., thereby casting a shadow over how much of her research was actually correct and reliable. It is mind boggling to learn about the amount of “experimentation” done on men and women, all in the name of advancing scientific knowledge. Consent at times was dubious, even after the Nuremberg Trials.  The doctors thought they were doing the best for these patients, but as the author puts it, their hubris and audacity changed lives not always for the better.

Towards the end of the book, there is a section on H.M.’s actual thoughts on himself and his memory. He tries to put a positive spin on things, noting that always living in the present makes things interesting. I suppose you can’t miss what you never had; but I also was very deeply touched by the portrayal of this man who underwent a lobotomy because he was desperate to end his constant seizures. Was the quality of his life made better by suctioning out parts of his brain? That’s the gist of PATIENT H.M. – there are uncomfortable questions and sometimes dubious answers that make sense at times, but in actuality heinous, unspeakable deeds were committed against innocent people.

The author does a wonderful job of forcing the reader to consider these broken people as tragic creatures, unknowing fodder (sometimes referred to as “material”) for the surgeons who were all eager to try out this new and groundbreaking procedure.

Also broken are the main characters: the surgeon Scoville, the neuroscientist Corkin, and the brain researcher Jacopo Annese, who took possession of H.M.’s brain after the famous amnesiac died. After live streaming the dissection of the brain, there followed a volatile custody battle between Corkin and Annese over who was the “real” owner of the organ. Everyone wanted a piece of H.M. , either in life or death – and akin to Henrietta Lacks, he was never truly compensated for it.

I dare you to read this book and not be moved. PATIENT H.M. is educational, thrilling, and serves as a reminder of just how far medical science has come – and the depths it has gone to in order to reach this point.

You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”0812992733″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

The End Of The Suburbs by Leigh Gallagher

End-of-the-Suburbs-for-web

 

“The government in the past created one American Dream at the expense of almost all others: the dream of a house, a lawn, a picket fence, two children, and a car. But there is no single American Dream anymore.”

For nearly 70 years, the suburbs were as American as apple pie. As the middle class ballooned and single-family homes and cars became more affordable, we flocked to pre-fabricated communities in the suburbs, a place where open air and solitude offered a retreat from our dense, polluted cities. Before long, success became synonymous with a private home in a bedroom community complete with a yard, a two-car garage and a commute to the office, and subdivisions quickly blanketed our landscape.
But in recent years things have started to change. An epic housing crisis revealed existing problems with this unique pattern of development, while the steady pull of long-simmering economic, societal and demographic forces has culminated in a Perfect Storm that has led to a profound shift in the way we desire to live.
In The End of the Suburbs journalist Leigh Gallagher traces the rise and fall of American suburbia from the stately railroad suburbs that sprung up outside American cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries to current-day sprawling exurbs where residents spend as much as four hours each day commuting. Along the way she shows why suburbia was unsustainable from the start and explores the hundreds of new, alternative communities that are springing up around the country and promise to reshape our way of life for the better.
Not all suburbs are going to vanish, of course, but Gallagher’s research and reporting show the trends are undeniable. Consider some of the forces at work:

• The nuclear family is no more: Our marriage and birth rates are steadily declining, while the single-person households are on the rise. Thus, the good schools and family-friendly lifestyle the suburbs promised are increasingly unnecessary.
• We want out of our cars: As the price of oil continues to rise, the hours long commutes forced on us by sprawl have become unaffordable for many. Meanwhile, today’s younger generation has expressed a perplexing indifference toward cars and driving. Both shifts have fueled demand for denser, pedestrian-friendly communities.
• Cities are booming. Once abandoned by the wealthy, cities are experiencing a renaissance, especially among younger generations and families with young children. At the same time, suburbs across the country have had to confront never-before-seen rates of poverty and crime.
Blending powerful data with vivid on the ground reporting, Gallagher introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, including the charismatic leader of the anti-sprawl movement; a mild-mannered Minnesotan who quit his job to convince the world that the suburbs are a financial Ponzi scheme; and the disaffected residents of suburbia, like the teacher whose punishing commute entailed leaving home at 4 a.m. and sleeping under her desk in her classroom.
Along the way, she explains why understanding the shifts taking place is imperative to any discussion about the future of our housing landscape and of our society itself—and why that future will bring us stronger, healthier, happier and more diverse communities for everyone.

Leigh Gallagher’s The End of the Suburbs is a book of social history in the same vein as, and of similar caliber to, the ancestral classic of its genre, Crabgrass Frontier by Kenneth T. Jackson. Like that book, this one avoids several of my pet peeves. It shuns ostentatious language in favor of highly function, dense, understandable sentences. No word seems to be solely dedicated to creating emphasis without also fleshing out the meaning of what is being said.  The discipline in research displayed in this book, unfortunately, did not match the the discipline in language.

I understand that it is unfair to expect of any book the thorough and relentless inclusion of data and primary source material provided by Mr. Jackson in Crabgrass Frontier. However, I must note that the difference in reading experiences between these two books is probably founded in this lack. In Crabgrass, the reader doesn’t feel like he or she is being convinced of anything. There is hardly any deductive step in that wonderful book about which the reader must say, “I’ll give Mr. Jackson that one.” Instead, Mr. Jackson would support a statement with publicly accessible data or primary source material, deduce something from that statement, and then support the deduction with MORE data or primary source material. What is different in Gallagher’s work is that reading it is like crossing a bridge of ordinary construction, with what looks to me like enough structural support to safely get me from one side to the other. But hey, what do I know? I don’t build bridges for a living, and she does, so I’ll trust her and drive over the bridge. Reading Mr. Jackson’s book is like driving on what seems to be an ordinary road on solid ground, and then have your rendezvous partner at the end of your journey ask, “How was your passage over the river?” You reply, “There was a river?”

If you don’t mind deductive passages spanning fractions of entire chapters without references to sources (and I imagine that most will not mind) there is much to love in the potentially mind-expanding subject matter here. Mrs. Gallagher connects the decline in childhood outdoor activity not to the advent of television and electronic entertainment, but to changes in the design of suburban landscapes. She investigates the pressures of the Millennial generation on the demand for suburban accommodation, and she provides a rich historical backdrop for the future she predicts. The average reader of Mrs. Gallagher’s book will finish it much more informed about American modern history, demographics, architectonics, and demographics than he or she was before. Furthermore, the relative paucity of primary source material helps to make The End of the Suburbs more fluidly readable than Crabgrass Frontier. This accessibility, and Mrs. Gallagher’s lighter tone, will hearten her work to more casual readers than myself, i.e. nearly everyone.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B00HTKAEDM” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Ether Day by Julie M Fenster

ether

Ether Day is the unpredictable story of America’s first major scientific discovery — the use of anesthesia — told in an absorbing narrative that traces the dawn of modern surgery through the lives of three extraordinary men. Ironically, the “discovery” was really no discovery at all: Ether and nitrous oxide had been known for more than forty years to cause insensitivity to pain, yet, with names like “laughing gas,” they were used almost solely for entertainment. Meanwhile, patients still underwent operations during which they saw, heard, and felt every cut the surgeon made. The image of a grim and grisly operating room, like the one in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, was in fact starkly accurate in portraying the conditions of surgery before anesthesia.

With hope for relief seemingly long gone, the breakthrough finally came about by means of a combination of coincidence and character, as a cunning Boston dentist crossed paths with an inventive colleague from Hartford and a brilliant Harvard-trained physician. William Morton, Horace Wells, and Charles Jackson: a con man, a dreamer, and an intellectual. Though Wells was crushed by derision when he tried to introduce anesthetics, Morton prevailed, with help from Jackson. The result was Ether Day, October 16, 1846, celebrated around the world. By that point, though, no honor was enough. Ether Day was not only the dawn of modern surgery, but the beginning of commercialized medicine as well, as Morton patented the discovery.

What followed was a battle so bitter that it sent all three men spiraling wildly out of control, at the same time that anesthetics began saving countless lives. Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Ether Day is a riveting look at one of history’s most remarkable untold stories.

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review!

ETHER DAY is meticulously researched; the characters are brought to life via the detailed descriptions of their lives and mental states.

To think that people were operated on with no care for their pain, yet Laughing Gas (ether) was used by non medical people for fun and escape, is mind boggling. No one made the connection between the two until William Morton, Horace Wells, and Charles Jackson “discovered” the other uses of this gas.

The fact that these three men’s lives overlapped was both good and bad: the discovery of ether as an anesthetic made both patient’s and surgeon’s lives better, but there was a lot of vitriol and ego involved as well. Each stood to make his fortune via ether, yet their lives were not always brightened by their actions.

Fenster has clearly done her research: there is both an index and endnotes, showing the comprehensive reading she did to recreate this story. She also includes a bibliography for further reading. The 1800’s come to life under her expert prose and background detail. I especially enjoyed the explanation of how the gas was delivered, and how the machines were tinkered with to provide a more accurate mixing of gas and air. The fact that these men experimented on themselves shows both folly and determination – in Chapter 14, Chlory, there is a section about scientists sniffing different concoctions of gases to figure out the best combination.

Every Thursday evening they would gather at the Simpson home, sitting around the dining table to inhale candidate chemicals. “I selected for experiment and have inhaled several chemical liquids of a more fragrant and agreeable odor,” Simpson wrote in a medical journal during the course of his research, “such as the chlorine of hydrocarbon, acetone, nitrate of oxide of ethyle, benzin, the vapour of chloroform, etc.”

One old friend, a professor named Miller, made a habit of dropping by at breakfast time every Friday, so he said, to see if anyone was dead. 

The lengths these men went to in the name of science is unheard of today. As the book jacket notes, Ether Day is a little known anniversary, yet without the actions of these men there would have been greater suffering in this world. They were not heros, either – just men trying to make money or a name for themselves, who fell into a bizarre chain of events that would send them all down a crazy rabbit hole and eventually break them.

Author Julie Fenster has brought the memory of these men out of the past and placed it firmly into our awareness with ETHER DAY. I commend her for choosing her subject wisely and keeping this discovery relevant, in a new way.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0060933178″ locale=”US” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

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