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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: NetGalley (page 1 of 5)

Abused: Surviving Sexual Assault and a Toxic Gymnastics Culture by Rachel Haines

Two-year-old Rachel Haines didn’t know that she would be committing to twenty-one years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance as she jumped into the foam pit during her first “mommy and me” gymnastics class. She had no idea that one day she would become a two-time National Team Member, two-time National Champion, and a Division I college gymnast at the University of Minnesota. Nor could she have known that she had just signed herself up for serious injury, emotional distress, and continuous sexual assault by world-renowned trainer turned serial molester, Larry Nassar.

In Abused: Surviving Sexual Assault and a Toxic Gymnastics Culture, Rachel details her experiences as a competitive gymnast and the painful realities of being one of Nassar’s many victims. With honesty and candidness, Rachel shares how the sport she loved that gave her so much—friendships, accomplishments, a college education—is also tangled in a dangerously toxic culture that needs to be fixed. In a world that was setting her up for a lifetime of recovery, she tells how faith, family, and an army of survivors made healing possible.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This story will grab you and not let you go until you reach the last word. It may even stay with you, with the atrocities and pressure that author Rachel Haines sustained buried deep in the back of your mind.

It is easy to think of gymnasts the same way we consider ballerinas: ethereal, feminine, able to perform superhuman feats of leaping and twisting that doesn’t seem possible. However, the two fields possess a few more similarities that are not so desirable. Both contain instances of eating disorders, perfectionism, toxic cultures….and abuse. In 2018 the prestigious New York City Ballet fired two male dancers after harassment charges had been brought against them. The history of abuse, both physical and sexual, is storied in the ballet world. Men (whether dancers or choreographers) hold all the power, and women are treated as second class citizens.

It seems that men hold all the power in gymnastics as well. Last year the horrific story about Larry Nassar’s hundreds of victims surfaced, which empowered other victims to come forward and share their story of the abusive culture they experienced. Coaches such as John Geddert and Bela Karolyi used their temper to mentally and physically abuse gymnasts under the guise of “encouragement” or to “toughen them up for competition”. The athletes were surrounded by a cloak of silence, looking inward and wondering if they were misreading Nassar’s “treatments”, which included taking pills and/or enduring digital manipulation (internal and external). As time went on, the gymnasts became inured to what was happening to them and accepted it as part of their lot in life. After all, they had chosen to be gymnasts, and to deny or expose this part would result in them being shunned or removed from the environment they knew and loved. As Haines notes, being a gymnast was her reason for living. No matter how painful or stressful it was, she was first and foremost, an elite athlete who performed gymnastics for a living. She knew of no other world, nor did she want to.

As Haines became more competitive, she sustained a horrific injury to her back (it was broken in multiple places) and had to work through pain on a daily basis. Nassar made sure to give her many “treatments” while telling her that while her back was injured, she was still cleared to perform her routines. As time went on, her legs grew numb. Her pre-competition ritual consisted of slathering immense amounts of Icy Hot on her legs, then punching them or cutting them so she would be able to detect a modicum of sensation. As I read further into the book, I was speechless at how she was able to keep performing (check out her videos on YouTube). Once, her legs betrayed her during competition. She bravely took a moment, then got back on the beam to complete her routine. If that is not courage, strength, pluck, bravery, and badassery, then I don’t know what is. Yet, through all of this, she was filled with self-doubt and impostor syndrome. Haines felt like she could never be equal to others and would often compare herself to other gymnasts. This left her wanting to be better, to be worthy, to be deserving.

Women are usually their own worst critics. The pressure Haines put on herself was unbelievable, as her fierce spirit held her in good stead throughout multiple years of practice, excruciating pain, and sexual abuse. Despite all her achievements, Haines still believed she was not good enough. This book will take you through her entire gymnastics journey, the highs and lows, the pain and the victories. It will also give you new respect for Haines and the other gymnasts who had to suffer through Nassar’s years of abuse. Haines bares her soul, her doubts, and her faith in this book, and I am sure it was not an easy task. Looking inward, then speaking out is one of the most intimidating things a woman can do; and Haines showed us her strength and wisdom, even as she confronted Nassar at his trial.

If this story does not move you or fill you with pride at how these women were able to overcome adversity, you had better check your pulse. Pick up your copy here.

 

Pill by Robert Bennett

Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

“You are what you eat.”

Never is this truer than when we take medications—from beta blockers and aspirin to Viagra and epidurals— especially psychotropic pills that transform our minds as well as our bodies. Meditating on how modern medicine increasingly measures out human identity not in T. S. Eliot’s proverbial coffee spoons but in 1mg-, 5mg-, or 300mg-doses, Pill traces the uncanny presence of psychiatric pills through science, medicine, autobiography, television, cinema, literature, and popular music. Ultimately, it argues that modern psychopharmacology reveals a brave new world in which human identities—thoughts, emotions, personalities, and selves themselves—are increasingly determined by the extraordinary powers of seemingly ordinary pills.

Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This short read was at once chilling and informative. The statistics alone will make you stop to think: are you one of the 5 US adults who uses a drug for a psychiatric problem? Are you on a “cocktail” of drugs to manage your condition? If you are not, certainly someone around you is on psychotropic medication.

The first 5 chapters are reserved for discussions of drugs such as Lithium, Prozac, and Adderall. The last portion describes the author’s personal experiences of manic times, complete with eye-opening photos of what his journal looked like while in the grip of mania (omg!) and when he returned to a more stable state.

As I read on, I became concerned with the writer’s sentiment. I suffer from depression and was quite stable until about a year ago. My medication stopped working and I have been trying different ones, hoping for one to work so I can be happy again. Reading about how many “cocktails” are in use and their failure rate was not encouraging. At one point I needed to put the book aside until I felt prepared to read the rest. After I told myself that this was just one person’s opinion and that there is still hope for me, I returned to the story with a grain of salt. I can equivocally say that my first medication did not alter my personality at all – I was still “me”, just a happier version.

The book shines in its in-depth illustration of just how debilitating mental illness can be, and how the search for the “right” medication can be a struggle. However, I would strongly suggest to the author to check his writing for the word “quotidian”, as the presence of the word on nearly every page grew wearisome. I am sure he would be able to find an acceptable substitute. Otherwise, PILL was an informative and easy read. I learned some new information and have a new respect for those who struggle with trying to find the right medicine so their life will be worth living.

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

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. 

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Just like most of the other reviewers, I absolutely loved this book and could not put it down. The plot was immediately interesting despite Jessica’s vacuous personality and poor decision making. Dr Shields was someone I loved to hate, with her internal monologues and her unemotional personality. At times she reminded me of a robot, until she started having feelings – and boy, were they unexpected!

The authors made each character an unreliable narrator, so you are thrown off balance towards the end, where the twists start to happen. The characters’ past affects their future in unexpected ways, and the authors do a great job of showing how tragedy affects people differently. The underlying tension of the morality study’s probing questions juxtaposed with Jessica’s difficulty with her own morals will make you think about your own actions, both past and present.

The psychological scars of each character shape their actions and decisions, giving the impression that we are no better than the sum of our past. As more light is shed on each character and their own past, things start to make sense – sort of. Once we learn Dr Shield’s motivation, the tension ramps up and you simply must devour each page in order to find out what happens next.

I found it quite interesting that the authors chose to have both women be strong characters, with Dr Shield’s husband somewhat of a weak link. He shows up in the book later on and is just as unreliable as the two women. Despite a strong beginning, he is no match for Jessica and Dr Shields as the story line comes to a head.  That being said, all three of these characters manipulate morality for their own benefit.

Dr Shields is a nearly perfect example of someone who needs control at all costs and will go to great lengths to gain it. At times she seemed too perfectly perspicacious, always seeming to be one or two steps ahead of Jessica’s machinations. However, each character has a flaw that can be exploited, and once those flaws are revealed the story starts to twist and turn as the characters unravel. I stayed up all night until I finished AN ANONYMOUS GIRL – it truly was that good. This is the book everyone will be talking about this year – don’t miss it!

You can get your copy here.

Late Air by Jaclyn Gilbert

 

Jaclyn Gilbert’s piercing and lyrically compelling debut novel boutmarriage, loss, and finding the path home again.

Murray has always known how to suppress his pain.

In the shadows of a predawn run, a man tries to escape what he can’t control: His failed marriage. Grief. Even his own weakness. Murray is a college running coach insistent on his relentless training regimen and obsessed with his star athlete—until he finds her crumpled and unresponsive during a routine practice one morning.

Unable to avoid or outrun reality, Murray is forced to face the consequences of a terrible accident from the past…and his own increasingly tenuous grip on life.

In her debut novel, author Jaclyn Gilbert weaves together the strands of two lives that form a union as finely nuanced and delicate as a spider’s web―and just as vulnerable. Following the relationship of Murray and his ex-wife, Nancy, in alternating narratives, we experience their early moments of hope and desire as well as their fears and failings. With poignancy and grace, Late Air traces the collapse of a marriage, exhausted by time and trauma, and one couple’s journey to regain their footing.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

LATE AIR is at once a book about obsession, grief, and lack of communication. Collegiate running coach Murray is struggling with multiple issues, while his ex-wife Nancy has her own demons. The story is told from multiple points of view, slowly describing the events that caused the marriage to fail and the residual damage they sustained.

As Murray is trying to cope mentally with the severe injury of his star runner, Nancy is trying to banish her own thoughts of the marriage, the tragedies within, and the lack of communication between her and Murray.

I will say that to me, Murray was a very sympathetic character and Nancy was not. She seemed dramatic and overly needy. Yes, Murray was an obsessive and at times obtuse – but I feel if Nancy had tried to talk more openly with Murray instead of wishing he would do this or say that, things would have had a fighting chance. The issues within their marriage were complicated by an event that irreversibly changed them both – and certainly many marriages have failed for the same exact reason – but what complicates matters is the utter lack of communication between Murray and Nancy. It seems that they were on their best behavior when they got married but slowly settled into the patterns of who they really were. Murray was always obsessed with lists, running,  and time, while Nancy was seeking outward affection from a man who seemed unable to give it. She is so in need of feeling wanted and loved that she ends up worse off after her divorce. Her relationship with an utterly shallow man illustrates just how far a woman can fall when she is ruled by her emotions.

The main reason I wanted to read the book was the running and coaching storyline. The author does an excellent job of tying in his coaching duties spiraling into decompensation and showing us how he becomes detached from his team even as he prepares the girls for important races. The training parts of LATE AIR were true to life and much more interesting than some other parts of the book.

I will say that the book is well written, despite my lukewarm reaction to the storyline. Gilbert is adept at diving down into the deepest recesses of pain, bringing the hurt up to the surface again and again. Her ability to focus and illuminate emotions is intense, yet beautiful. I’ll definitely be looking out for her next work.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up 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 Suspect by Fiona Barton

The new must-read standalone crime thriller from the author of Sunday Times bestseller, The Widow, and the Richard & Judy No. 1 bestseller, The Child – featuring unforgettable journalist, Kate Waters.
The police belonged to another world – the world they saw on the television or in the papers. Not theirs.
When two eighteen-year-old girls go missing on their gap year in Thailand, their families are thrust into the international spotlight: desperate, bereft and frantic with worry.
Journalist Kate Waters always does everything she can to be first to the story, first with the exclusive, first to discover the truth – and this time is no exception. But she can’t help but think of her own son, who she hasn’t seen in two years since he left home to go traveling. This time it’s personal.
And as the case of the missing girls unfolds, they will all find that even this far away, danger can lie closer to home than you might think . . .

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

Fiona Barton still has the touch in this latest Kate Waters mystery. We become a little more acquainted in Kate’s personal life while she is investigating a story of how two girls go missing during a trip to Thailand. During a series of plot twists, Kate becomes part of the journalist’s fodder and experiences what it is like from the other side – knocks on your door day and night, having to hide from the press, and looking over your shoulder all the time.

One of Barton’s hallmarks is that some of her characters are unreliable narrators. Sometimes you don’t find out who is unreliable until you have finished half the story, other times it is painfully obvious. THE SUSPECT is a tale that shifts your perspective on the reliability of a character multiple times. Are the good guys really good? Are you supposed to read between the lines of one girl’s email to her best friend, or is she just sharing her innermost thoughts?

Set in the UK with flashbacks of the girls’ trip to Bangkok, the story unfolds as Kate ingratiates herself with the girls’ parents and tries to uncover what happened to them. Once certain details come to light, Kate is removed from the case and becomes a pariah. The author leads you down a path that makes you certain you know the truth…then swiftly changes the course of your journey.

More sensual tension simmers between Kate and Detective Bob Sparkes, despite the fact that his wife is expected to die from cancer within a few months. His character is wonderfully written, full of conflict, regret and fatigue.

The parents of the missing girls are all rage and accusation, blaming each other even as they cling to the small hope that their daughters are still alive. They turn on each other like vipers, then close ranks against the journalists who seek to create a story out of their pain.

The seedy atmosphere of Bangkok’s underworld is a perfect setting. If I were a parent, I would never want my daughter taking a trip there, regardless of how many friends she had with her. Some other reviews note that there is really nothing good mentioned about Thailand; I feel that is to make the story a bit darker and have the actions of the characters appear insidious.

I’d be interested to see if Barton includes some of the characters from this book in a future one. This was definitely an enjoyable read.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up 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.

The Girls of 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.
Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.
Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting, intimate journey of a young woman’s struggle to reclaim her life. Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

THE GIRLS OF 17 SWANN STREET is a poignant and haunting story of a girl who is battling anorexia only because those around her want her to “get better”. Her demons and self-loathing have caused her to deny herself foods that she used to love. Her marriage is slipping away, full of unspoken words as Anna becomes thinner and thinner. Finally, her husband brings her to 17 Swann Street, where she will undergo treatment.

The author’s way of demonstrating the character’s struggle is intense – the reader is thrown into Anna’s mind through internal rumination and flashbacks, which serve to illuminate the deepest thoughts of an anorexic. Anna is not sure if she wants to live or die, even as those around her suffer with the same affliction and vanish. Throughout the course of the story Anna’s fate remains uncertain, as she takes one step forward and two steps back. Her struggle to consume enough calories under the watchful eyes of the clinic staff (who go un-named in an effort to dehumanize them, an excellent tactic by the author) is laid bare as she is shamed publicly for hiding a small bit of cream cheese in her napkin and then throwing it out.

As I read I wondered when Anna was just going to give up – her character is severely depressed and tragic. She does everything in her power to drive her husband away, despite his constant visits. She battles the staff over each mouthful of food she is forced to eat. In fact, she is such a morose person that at times I wished she would make a choice, rather than simply give up. However, it sounds like the author either did excellent research or she has personal experience with the disorder, because Anna’s behavior is exactly what you would expect from someone with depression and concurrent anorexia.

The book is an easy read – I got through it in one day because I was driven to know what would happen to Anna. As I mentioned before, at times I wasn’t sure if I was on her side or not. It was heartbreaking to see her shunning her husband, who clearly adored her. It was frustrating to see her work really hard, then seemingly change her mind and give in to her old habits. Self-care is not easy when you hate yourself, and Anna’s character is proof that the mind can be an evil, overpowering entity that robs one of the ability to control their life. I felt the cold fingers of depression reaching for me once I finished the book – it’s so real that it gets into your own head and makes you wonder if you are ok, if you will be ok.

Want your own copy of this haunting book? You can pick it up 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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