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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Tag: science

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.

Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar

The bestselling author of Intern and Doctored tells the story of the thing that makes us tick

For centuries, the human heart seemed beyond our understanding: an inscrutable shuddering mass that was somehow the driver of emotion and the seat of the soul. As the cardiologist and bestselling author Sandeep Jauhar shows in Heart: A History, it was only recently that we demolished age-old taboos and devised the transformative procedures that have changed the way we live.
Deftly alternating between key historical episodes and his own work, Jauhar tells the colorful and little-known story of the doctors who risked their careers and the patients who risked their lives to know and heal our most vital organ. He introduces us to Daniel Hale Williams, the African American doctor who performed the world’s first open heart surgery in Gilded Age Chicago. We meet C. Walton Lillehei, who connected a patient’s circulatory system to a healthy donor’s, paving the way for the heart-lung machine. And we encounter Wilson Greatbatch, who saved millions by inventing the pacemaker–by accident. Jauhar deftly braids these tales of discovery, hubris, and sorrow with moving accounts of his family’s history of heart ailments and the patients he’s treated over many years. He also confronts the limits of medical technology, arguing that future progress will depend more on how we choose to live than on the devices we invent. Affecting, engaging, and beautifully written, Heart: A History takes the full measure of the only organ that can move itself.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

I am a big fan of the author and his writing, and HEART did not disappoint. There were many facts about the heart (some obscure, some not) interspersed throughout the book to complement patient stories. We read about the author as a young boy and his personal desire to work in cardiology, stemming from the story of a relative’s death during his formative years. The author comes across as a caring and knowledgeable doctor with a kind bedside manner – there are no veiled frustrations or jabs at ornery patients, as I have read in other medical books.

One of the best things about the book is that it’s part history, part medicine, part almost-gory-but-not-overly-done, and part philosophy. Each chapter can stand alone and be read a few days apart without having to remember the plot or which patient he is discussing. Thoughtful illustrations are added to underscore the meaning of the chapters, and footnotes are added to provide explanations or information without slowing down the flow of the narrative. The book strikes a great balance of science and interesting plot without slowing down the narrative with a lot of detail that the average reader without a medical background wouldn’t understand. For someone like me, with a medical background, there were also enough facts to keep me interested. Some books minimize details to make it easy for the reader; Jauhar does not do that. This makes his books fascinating and eminently readable.

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

 

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].

Life On The Edge by McFadden & Al-Khalili

life on the edge

 

Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how did it come to be? Even in an age of cloning and artificial biology, the remarkable truth remains: nobody has ever made anything living entirely out of dead material. Life remains the only way to make life. Are we still missing a vital ingredient in its creation?

Like Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, which provided a new perspective on how evolution works, Life on the Edge alters our understanding of our world’s fundamental dynamics. Bringing together first-hand experience at the cutting edge of science with unparalleled gifts of explanation, Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe Macfadden reveal that missing ingredient to be quantum mechanics; the phenomena that lie at the heart of this most mysterious of sciences.

Drawing on recent ground-breaking experiments around the world, each chapter in Life on the Edge engages by illustrating one of life’s puzzles: How do migrating birds know where to go? How do we really smell the scent of a rose? How do our genes copy themselves with such precision?Life on the Edge accessibly reveals how quantum mechanics can answer these probing questions of the universe.

Guiding the reader through the rapidly unfolding discoveries of the last few years, Al-Khalili and McFadden communicate the excitement of the explosive new field of quantum biology and its potentially revolutionary applications, while offering insights into the biggest puzzle of all: what is life? As they brilliantly demonstrate in these groundbreaking pages, life exists on the quantum edge.

Every non-fiction title must match the rigor of its investigative narrative to the weight of its message. Here is a book that seems to herald a brave new world of possible technology and depth of understanding, brought to us by the field of quantum biology. I harbor little skepticism that the authors’ chosen field of study will bring to bear significant impact upon everyday life and scientific conquest of the unknown alike. I am, however, perturbed by the willingness, even giddiness, of the authors to extend their findings into areas of study not directly related to their work, dispensing entirely with intellectual rigor in favor of the eye-catching pizazz of a History Channel or TLC docuthriller.

I wish that I could be kinder to this book, but I can’t. In my relatively short life, I’ve watched worthwhile institutions (from the Smithsonian Institute to just about every news broadcast on the tube) turn into entertainment media. What makes this book part of that media is that its takeaway is a romantic image of a scientific future and a mysterious universe, rather than the science itself. The viewer of a modern Discovery Channel program, for example, often concludes a viewing experience feeling entertained, confusing this “entertained” feeling for the feeling of having learned something. The dynamics that propagate this kind of confusion are all present in Life on the Edge:

-Examples overstay their welcome, explaining the same thing multiple ways, and appealing to different emotions each time rather than to different features of the thing being explained

-Being overly numerous, the examples replace a dearth of content and context with a breadth of verbosity.

-Phrases such as “It could be the case that…” and “Perhaps [subject] could even…” are used to extend verifiable claims grossly beyond the limits of reasonable speculation, and into a land of pure imagination. This would be fine, of course, if it did not happen in a book written by two highly credible and accomplished scientists whose word many will take as gold. By trying to extend the appeal of this book to those who are not fascinated by the wonder of the quantum world alone, the authors risk alienating those who are, their core audience.

I would recommend this book to someone who has no prior knowledge of what the phrase “quantum mechanics” means, perhaps hoping that the hyperbole it contains might ignite his or her fascination. Some say that this is a valid way to spark interest in people. However, I have always found this method to be demeaning to those upon whom it is used, like using the prospect of a career as an astronaut to entice children to become interested in the cosmos. Visionary public scientists like Carl Sagan wouldn’t treat children this way, which is partially why he is still beloved today. Other public scientists who hope to have a positive impact need to follow suit.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for this review. Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0307986810″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski

 

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 An essential exploration of why and how women’s sexuality works—based on groundbreaking research and brain science—that will radically transform your sex life into one filled with confidence and joy. Researchers have spent the last decade trying to develop a “pink pill” for women to function like Viagra does for men. So where is it? Well, for reasons this book makes crystal clear, that pill will never exist—but as a result of the research that’s gone into it, scientists in the last few year have learned more about how women’s sexuality works than we ever thought possible, and Come as You Are explains it all.

 

I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway! Thanks to Emily Nagoski and Simon & Schuster for contributing the book in exchange for an honest review.

There are many books out there claiming to be the best source of knowledge about the female body; but this one is pretty much on the money. Nagoski talks honestly about what women experience, and why. Her tenet is: we are all alike, but different,  we are all normal.

Women may get their knowledge  from social media,  and therefore have an unrealistic image to live up to. Women may feel “broken” because their bodies don’t react the way they think they should. This feeling is insidious and permeates the brain and hinders sexual pleasure.

Nagoski explains that women have a “brake” and an  “accelerator” and that they need to be aware of what hits them, in essence. She talks about “spectatoring” (thinking about yourself in a denigrating way during sex, effectively hitting your brake) and discusses how to love your body.

COME AS YOU ARE is an uplifting, celebrating, and positive book that all women should read.  The ideas she puts forth are simple, and she includes worksheets and questions in the book that the reader can use to help them along their journey to better self awareness.

The author includes a chapter on anatomy, which is very thorough and should educate even the most sexually aware person! She also debunks the myths that women’s pleasure is secondary to men’s, or that the purpose of a female is just to procreate. Her message gives women power on every page.

Intertwined with Nagoski’s wisdom are 4 fictional women, each experiencing a different problem. As the book progresses, each woman’s relationship progresses, concurrent with what the author is saying. This way the reader can see how the principles are applied in real life.

What makes this book different from other self help books is that the solutions are put forth for both the mind and the body. It won’t matter if your sex drive is low or high,  as the tenets will make many women feel better, both about themselves and about what they feel. Education goes a long way, and this is the author’s aim: to let women know they are normal, while teaching them why this is so. There can be no better message, especially in these times where the average female has a lot of negativity surrounding her. Every woman should read this book, then give it to their partner. There would be more happiness in the world if that occurred.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B00LD1ORBI” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Antisense by R.P. Marshall (and book giveaway)

[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”yes” align=”center” asin=”B00GCS3WUO” cloaking=”default” height=”500″ localization=”yes” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51oAiXzUGVL.jpg” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ width=”327″]

Many thanks to the folks at Publishing Push for this book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s very hard to like any of the characters in this book. The narrator, Daniel Hayden, may be unreliable; his motives may be inscrutable. The story starts at the funeral of his father, and we can feel the awkwardness in the air as Daniel describes the scene:  I remained by the fireplace, holding onto the mantelpiece where for over an hour I had managed to avoid justifying my existence to a group of people with whom I shared little beyond a small portion of genetic material ( and for most, not even that).

Just a few moments before, a rock is thrown through the window of the room where the gathering is taking place, and the perpetrator runs away, unapprehended.  Daniel takes his leave, carrying a small box of his father’s effects,  and gets a ride to the train station from his Uncle George, his father’s brother. When he gets home his wife Jane is sitting by herself at home, with a glass of wine and an abundance of sarcasm.  We learn that their marriage is not a happy one, and their day to day conversation consists mostly of anger and condescension.  I did wonder why they were still together, as it seemed there was nothing really holding them together. The author paints a picture of a bleak childless marriage, in a holding pattern of quiet suspense,  and I believe Marshall kept the marriage intact to highlight Daniel’s sense of isolation.

Daniel is a neuroscientist, performing experiments on lab mice to see the activity of  different proteins and genes in the amygdala. He is a loner there at work also, and is frustrated by the failure of his current project,  which consists of studying aggression in rodents and seeing if certain brain secretions can make them either more or less aggressive. Results seem to be incorrect, and his bosses and grant providers are starting to suspect the worst.  A new employee named Erin catches Daniel’s eye, and he is confused by it:  The effect she was having on me was difficult to comprehend. The opportunity to learn something new about oneself tends to diminish with age, particularly as one grows accustomed to one’s shortcomings (if not oblivious to them), but she seemed to make so many things possible. 

Daniel takes a trip to Chicago to meet with some of the grant providers, and careens through the city in a kind of a fever dream–drinking , bringing a girl back to his hotel room one night, finding himself in a porno shop the next. Things go bad there and he ends up at the police station.  The way Marshall describes the scene afterwards is typical of the striking prose encountered throughout the book: A squad car returned me to the hotel sometime after one AM. The night porter ushered me into the glittering, vacant lobby where I stood shell shocked at the brightness and clarity of it all. Hotels have a nightmarish quality at that hour. their empty corridors and hushed elevators sumptuous but sterile like a last meal on death row.

Once Daniel returns back to England he remembers the box he was given at the funeral, and opens it to find a mysterious newspaper clipping. The rest of the book proceeds with him making an effort to discover the meaning of this clipping, which in turn brings him to an unwanted realization about his family, and his recent behavior in America.

I tagged this novel under suspense, but it’s not your typical suspense. It’s quiet, insidious, the kind that creeps up on you, surrounded by vapid images and bland, even dull activities: drinking, small talk, descriptions of the weather. Make no mistake: this book is written brilliantly. Even though you must read 50% of it to even GET to the crux of the matter, it hooks you and makes you wonder where all this is going. The author is a master of the uncommon sentence; his proficiency with language and his ability to turn a phrase makes Antisense one of the best books I’ve read this year.  The character of Daniel does not so much develop but is revealed, and he is an unusual protagonist; not evil enough to be hated, too vanilla to be liked. Even the ending is unobtrusive, even peaceful, though somehow mournful.

I look forward to more by RP Marshall.  Visit his website to see what his next project is! He was kind enough to provide a print copy for a book giveaway: click HERE to enter. Entries will be accepted from November 14th to November 30th –good luck!

If you are not the lucky winner, click [easyazon_link asin=”B00GCS3WUO” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]HERE[/easyazon_link] to purchase it.

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