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Kevin Fong, a physician, believes exploration and extreme medicine are linked. Fong’s book, "Extreme Medicine", links exploration and medical advance with real-life stories of adventure, discovery; failure and success. He argues that exploration of the unknown transforms medicine.
Fong begins with a story of frostbite in the early 20th century. The two edges of subzero weather are revealed; one edge destroys while the other preserves life. Fong recounts the life of a mariner that dies from frostbite that slowly saps life from his limbs, his brain, and finally his heart. Then Fong tells of a skier’s accident in freezing weather that leaves her clinically dead for three hours. The skier lives even though 20 minutes without an operating autonomic system means death.
Ethics come into issue in a doctor’s sale of extreme medicine to desperate patients. Life is always, to quote a previous book review, a matter of “me before you”. Doctors are human. Money, power, and prestige affect their decisions just as they affect all human decisions. The difference is that the patient has more to lose than the doctor.
This is not to deny the theme of Fong’s book. Living life is, by nature, an exploration. Human beings who choose to explore extremes do advance knowledge. Knowledge drawn from exploration does transform medicine. Knowledge transforms everything in life. Life on earth is finite. With exploration, life is potentially infinite.
"All the Light We Cannot See" is about the literal and figurative blindness of its two main characters. Marie-Louise is blind because of a childhood eye disease. Werner is blind because he only sees the science of life; not its beauty and fragility, until it is too late.
Anthony Doerr gives reader/listeners a small illustration of a cataclysmic world event; i.e. a vignette of WWII that tells a story that has been told in every war since the beginning of time. There is no glory in war. There is only death and destruction. There are no winners. There are only survivors.
Evan Osnos paints a schizophrenic picture of modern China in his book, "Age of Ambition". The 2014 National Book Award for non-fiction is awarded to Osnos for his depiction of a culture of 1.4 billion people.
With some reservation, Osnos’s assessment is insightful, well argued, and supported by selected historical events and facts. One’s reservation is Osnos’s inherent bias as an American. This may be a quibble because the same might be said of Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic depiction of America in the 19th century but it is a caution to be
Osnos suggests modern China, in some ways, is like 19th century America. In the 19th century, America ambitiously industrialized to become the 20th century’s wealthiest economy; China appears to be on the same economic’ trajectory, only at a faster rate, in the 21st century. A fundamental difference, shown (or at least inferred) by Osnos, is that China’s rise is founded on the basis of cultural conformity and unicameral legislation while America’s rise is based on balance of power and bicameral representative legislation.
Dissidents in China, like dissidents in America, are pressing for transparency because both believe their societies will benefit from public understanding and input. Osnos infers that neither American’ democratic capitalists nor Chinese’ communist capitalists know what capitalist countries can, or should do to satisfy public needs. It appears America is no more or less schizophrenic than China. One difference is that China appears more ambitious than America; largely because China is trying to catch up, while America is already there; there, meaning an American minority is wealthy while the majority are either poor or falling further behind. The second difference is that China is more overtly oppressive than America which is certainly a difference in action, but not necessarily consequence.
Gabriel Garcia Márquez begins "Love in the Time of Cholera" with a sweet evocation of love and marriage between Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his 71-year-old wife, the former Fermina Daza.
"Love in the Time of Cholera" almost loses one’s interest with the introduction of Florentino Ariza, an earlier rival for señorita Daza’s affection. Florentino seems a pale suitor when compared to Urbino. Florentino is too poor, too poetically inept, and socially immature to rival Urbino. Márquez slowly fills out Florentino’s character to make a listener interested enough to find out why he is important to the story. Márquez cleverly inserts an anonymous letter delivered to Urbino in the telling of his tale. The letter was held by a suicide victim, an acquaintance of Urbino’s, which adds mystery to the story. One wonders, is the letter related to Fermina’s earlier suitor? An answer is not given until the end of "Love in the Time of Cholera."
Márquez’s story suggests that love does not arrive with marriage but only comes with the passage of time. Márquez concludes sex in life and marriage is ephemeral and evolving; while love is eternal and built over time.
This is a brief introduction to a number of extraordinary artists, several well-known and a few rarely heard of. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Warhol, Rembrandt, Chagall, Rivera, O’Keefe, Matisse, and van Gogh are recognized by most people who have a passing interest in art. But, few art history dabblers have heard of William H. Johnson, Mary Cassatt, Sofonisba Anguissola, Maria Kahlo, Katsushika Hokusai, or Kathe Kollwitz.
At best, “Lives of the Artists-Masterpieces, Messes” will broaden a dilettante’s interest in visual art and make a reader look up some of their work. Kathleen Krull barely touches the lives she writes about but when one sees the work of the artists she chooses, her choices of subject make the book worth reading.
Kathleen Krull proves how little one knows of the lives of artists and their art work. As Plato wrote of Socrates, “I know something that I know nothing.”
"Little Failure: may seem like a humorous anecdote to some but it is also about the angst and hardship of immigration. At the age of 38, Gary Shteyngart’s “…Memoir” seems hubristic. "Little Failure" is a case in point, but the author shows more self-loathing than excessive self-pride in his story of coming from Russia to New York at the age of six to become an American.
Shteyngart’s first book (not "Little Failure") is published with good reviews. The best that can be said about "Little Failure" is that it tells a story of growing to manhood in 20th century America. "Little Failure: is as its title says, a memoir, but it seems more like displaced hubris than any revelation about growing up; or a teaser to read one of Shteyngart’s novels. Aside from the immigrant parts of Shteyngart’s life, little new coming-of-age' ground is broken; i.e. few teaching-moments are harvested.
George Eliot is a woman by the name of Mary Anne Evans. The name George Eliot hides and explains a double standard that existed before Adam and Eve and continues through today. George Eliot transgressed morality in the 1860s by living with a married man, until his death, when writing “The Mill on the Floss”. “The Mill on the Floss” is semi-autobiographical.
Very little social stigma follows men for illicit love affairs but no review of Eliot’s work escapes her association with George Henry Lewes. (As noted in Wikipedia: George Henry Lewes was an English philosopher and critic of literature and theatre. He became part of the mid-Victorian ferment of ideas which encouraged discussion of Darwinism, positivism, and religious skepticism.) Lewes became an important part of Eliot’s awakening as a literary artist; a role given substance by her life and experience with Lewes; not that Lewes was the source of her inherent ability, but an ability that could have been constrained, if not lost, in the social conventions of that day if not for Lewes’ support.
This is a wonderful classic that has as much to say about today as it did when it was published in 1860. Eliot’s book is not meant to change human nature (as if any book could), or the way we raise our children, but it helps explain why things happen as they do.
Figuratively, Phillip Roth skins an onion in his book, The Human Stain. He exposes the insidious nature of discrimination in a story about a college professor’s life.
In a Buddhist’ way, Roth’s story stings the eyes of wisdom and the material world. The Human Stain offers layers of truth about human nature; Roth gives examples like President Clinton’s contretemps with Monica Lewinsky; stories of a “free” but tainted press; the many forms of discrimination, and incidents of female sexual exploitation. Each peel of the onion reveals a layer of stinging truth about human beings in a material world.
By the end of The Human Stain, one is reminded of the biblical phrase, “he who is without sin can cast the first stone”. Roth’s story infers every lie (and we are all liars) leaves a stain; every human experience leaves an imprint, some of which are stains; others, the building blocks of life.
Ironically, it seems timely to read "Battle Cry of Freedom" because of current events in America. It is difficult to believe anyone in America ever believed one human could be another’s personal property. James McPherson shows, as late as the 19th century, many Americans believed it. In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson writes, “all men are created equal”. America sought independence and fought a civil war to affirm that belief. One might ask how long it will take Thomas Jefferson’s statement to be a reality. One wonders if discrimination is baked into the character of human beings.
McPherson’s "Battle Cry of Freedom" is the coda of the Civil War. Freedom is the heart-felt desire of every Union and Rebel soldier, every White and Black man, every woman and child. This desire for freedom has not changed in eleven thousand years of man’s enslavement by man. The only change seems to have been in who is classified as slave; i.e. that “other-than-me” unequal human being.
McPherson offers an entertaining and educational history of the Civil War in "Battle Cry of Freedom". There are many insights to the generalship of the war, the political opinions of the time, the personalities of great and infamous leaders, and the many steps taken toward American’ freedom. However, like other strides America has taken for freedom, they seem small steps toward erasing the ugly side of human nature.
Elaine Pagels is a Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She has a Ph.D. in religion from Harvard University. Modern Library calls Pagels’ book, “The Gnostic Gospels” one of the 100 most important books of the twentieth century.
For all religious organizations and particularly the Christian church, “The Gnostic Gospels” shakes the foundations of institutional religion. Like the beginning of a story of adventure and mystery, Pagels recounts the discovery of a fifty-two text collection of papyrus sheets recounting the beginnings of the Christian church.
Frustration remains at the conclusion of “The Gnostic Gospels”, even after reading Pagels’ insightful interpretation, because gnostic documentation is, like every written document of the time, removed from “witnesses to the truth”, i.e. people who lived in Jesus’ time.
However, the Coptic text shows that in the near-beginnings of the Christian religion there were questions about who Jesus was and what he was about; i.e. was he simply a prophet or the Son of God, was he preaching for the creation of a religion or were historical facts manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution, was Mary Magdalene a conjugal companion or disciple?
Pagels’ interpretation in “The Gnostic Gospels” suggests that Jesus was a prophet; that his life story was manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution, and that Mary Magdalene was a disciple.
The more fundamental issue in “The Gnostic Gospels” is the idea of the “Kingdom of God” being present within every human being, then and now, and that self-knowledge is the source of admittance to grace. If one believes this teaching, it does not necessarily require abandonment of organized religion but it suggests that church institutions’ only role is to aid personal revelation; not to ritualize admittance to the “Kingdom of God” by christening mankind or bludgeoning all who do not accept a church’s vision of religion.
Johnathan Sperber has gathered an impressive amount of data in a history of Karl Marx’s life. Sadly, his presentation is not equal to his collection. Unlike biographies done by Robert Caro (wrote “The Power Broker” about Robert Moses, the land planner of New York, and former President, Lyndon Johnson) or William Manchester (a Winston Churchill Biographer), Sperber fails to bring his subject to life.
Marx is considered by some to be one of the three most influential economists that ever lived (Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes being the other two.) That influence is not felt by a reader or listener of Sperber’s biography. Sperber offers facts but leaves coherence to the consumer.
Sperber offers a lot of information about Marx’s family life and Friedrich Engels, his primary benefactor (ironically, a capitalist factory owner). But, this is a disappointing book because it garners too little interest in the power and influence of Marx’s economic theory.
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