I really love the American Experience episode based on this book and I wasn’t ready for it to end. This book did not disappoint. Norris and Gettler arI really love the American Experience episode based on this book and I wasn’t ready for it to end. This book did not disappoint. Norris and Gettler are my new personal heroes and there were so many amazing discoveries and important science going on during this period in New York City that I could not put this book down. I can understand the readers who got bogged down in the chemistry details and they were not my favorites either, as I didn’t always understand what was being described. There was so much here I had just never thought about before such as how we established blood and breath alcohol levels for legal purposes and more than that – how we found out just how alcohol works, when someone is measurably drunk and how chronic drinking affects the body. It was just mind blowing to think about being able to prove someone had means and motive and the poison used but not be able to prove how much poison would be fatal or disprove that any poison found in the body was from somewhere else. It seems amazing that anyone lived through this period when poisons were in all sorts of personal care products and even food and there were NO real protections for the consumer. Loved loved loved this one! The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is that there were sections that bogged down in the technical aspects of the science....more
Mixed feelings about this one. I “read” it as an audiobook which means I tend to stick with material that takes a while for longer than I would in priMixed feelings about this one. I “read” it as an audiobook which means I tend to stick with material that takes a while for longer than I would in print form. There were some great stories here, but I do understand the frustration of other reviewers who felt like Wolfe just started to dig into interesting ideas and concepts and then flitted off to something else. However, I really enjoyed the information about field work in Africa and attempts to catalogue and study animal viruses before they make the leap to humans. This was something I had not been aware of before but I found the work very interesting. I read a lot about epidemics so some of this was a bit of a review for me, but most books about these topics are so I don’t necessarily expect tons of new material. Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable and informative, if a little high level, read....more
I am embarrassed to admit that beyond knowing that we had a President named Garfield and that he wasn't a chubby, orange, cartoon cat, I know nothingI am embarrassed to admit that beyond knowing that we had a President named Garfield and that he wasn't a chubby, orange, cartoon cat, I know nothing about that period of our history. This book was recommended to me by a good friend with great taste in books so I didn't ever read the summary. I laugh now to see it compared to "Devil in the White City" and "The Professor and the Madman". It compares well to those two excellent non-fiction works.
Detailing the intertwined destinies of Alexander Graham Bell, Lister and his theories of antisepsis, and the politics of the time, this book was a wonderful immersion into a turning point of medical history and the death of a very interesting man. Early on in the book, I found myself enthralled with Garfield, if for nothing else for the fact he had no interest in being President. I feel that speaks well of a man's character. Garfield was amazingly bright and well-read and direct quotes from his letters and speeches appear throughout the book. I might actually look into reading some collections of his writing as he has a wonderfully compelling voice. The end of the book dragged a little for me and it was so frustrating to read the agony of a man killed by ignorance and tradition rather than a fatal wound. Amazing book and one that will stick with me for quite a while. ...more
Growing up around dogs and summering on farms, I can’t think of a time I wasn’t aware that animals could be rabid and dangerous, but after listening t Growing up around dogs and summering on farms, I can’t think of a time I wasn’t aware that animals could be rabid and dangerous, but after listening to this book, I realize I knew almost nothing about this terrifying disease that’s been part of human history since nearly the beginning. This book was an excellent survey, covering historical mentions of rabies, the details of the disease itself and how it kills, it’s place in our cultural history, and the path to a cure. I love books like this because if one section isn’t quite your cup of tea, just hang on – there is a new topic right around the bend.
It was eye opening to realize how much of a problem rabies still is throughout much of the developing world and how devastating it can be in areas without easy access to treatment. There is something uniquely terrifying about a disease that can start with such a minor event (a bite) and silently incubate before popping up again, sometimes a year later, to start the final days for the victim. And to have a sickness with enough periods of wellness that the victim is fully aware of what’s happening and what the end will be – gave me goose bumps!
The later sections exploring rabies possible connection to vampire and werewolf mythos was weaker but there were still some very interesting factoids about the kinds of stories man has been scaring himself with for centuries. As a group, we are so invested in differentiating ourselves from animals and rabies seems to play into some of our darkest fears about the beasts still lurking within our natures. All in all, a highly enjoyable book that entertained and taught me a number of new things....more
I feel almost guilty how much I adored this book, if for no other reason as the wealth of knowledge it contains about a drug that had a huge effect onI feel almost guilty how much I adored this book, if for no other reason as the wealth of knowledge it contains about a drug that had a huge effect on world history and now is almost forgotten. But I think the real power lies in the author’s personal story of scholarship, obsession, and eventual addiction. Martin’s tale of wandering around Asia in search of “home” reminds me of some of the best of Tony Bourdain’s travel writing/journalism. He stumbles upon some of the few remaining opium dens in existence and becomes obsessively fascinated by the culture, the history, the tools and artifacts of opium smoking, and the other smokers. It was almost frightening reading the passionate fire he develops for every nuance, ritual, and ornate detail of opium smoking because I complete understand the high of losing oneself in an intellectual passion like this. There is so much detail packed into this book and it is unique among nearly all published works on the topic. Martin should know since the book discusses his ever-deepening research, scouring out any and all works written about opium use, traditional smoking tools and set up, and even more literary works produced by known or reputed users. There are times the world he describes is dangerously seductive, but I think he did an elegant job of balancing the way opium use cast a dream-like quality over his own life and the horrific physical agony of his own withdrawals and quit attempts and the death of others while trying to quit. This book is amazing read for anyone with an interest in Asian history, the physiology of addiction/drug abuse, traditional Chinese ritual and artifacts, or the history of opium use. I have read so many books set in our about Asia and while many reference opium use/abuse, after reading this book I realize I understood nothing about the whole thing. An amazing and gripping read and one that I know I will remember often as I encounter opium references in books, movies, music and history. It’s like a door has been opened to a shadow world and now I see references and details everywhere. That the mark of an amazing book!...more
I wanted to like this one more than I actually did. It had all the right elements – wonderful setting in Italy during the Renaissance, European travelI wanted to like this one more than I actually did. It had all the right elements – wonderful setting in Italy during the Renaissance, European travel, a woman ahead of her time – but the overall effect fell flat. Dr. Gabriella Mondini follows her father into medical practice, but when he travels to research his book and is gone for years, the officials in Venice won't let her to continue to practice without male oversight. Off she goes, with two trusted servants.
And then it sort of goes off the rails. Interesting elements about the various places she visits, their customs and the challenges of the times. There was a sort of out of the blue romantic element and the book had numerous interludes of "enteries" from her father's Book of Diseases. The journey itself didn't make a ton of sense. Armed with a stack of letters, Gabriella visits the places in order, rather than going directly to where he was last…Eh, not a bad book, but not as good as it could have been. ...more
I took this book on a business trip with me and my coworkers looked at me like I was nuts or possibly an alien. Clearly, none of them were gigantic paI took this book on a business trip with me and my coworkers looked at me like I was nuts or possibly an alien. Clearly, none of them were gigantic pathology/epidemiology nerds like me. I can’t give an unbiased review of this book because I was so darned excited to see a highly readable sort of history/medicine/sociology mash up on yellow fever. I’ve seen some reviews that ding this book for being ‘too readable’ (that it tries a little too hard to be likeable and enjoyable). Having read actual medical journals for fun – I don’t get that. Hooray for likable and enjoyable! We need more of that.
So – the basics – yellow fever is endemic in the US and really freakin’ horrific. It has shaped our history and how our cities have developed and even is a main reason why our nation’s capital is in D.C. The book cheerfully starts off with lush and soon gory descriptions of an outbreak in Memphis, TN. I found the personal history of some of the residents and the human side of the outbreak fascinating. I will never be able to forget the story of a slave returning to his employer’s home to find it boarded up with everyone dead except 1 daughter who was half-mad and starving. I was absolutely captivated by the psychology of it – what it would be to live in a time where these sort of things happened and people watched their whole families die in front of them and barely survived themselves.
The last 1/3 of the book bogged down a little as it felt like there was too little material so it was stretched a bit. On a high note – I know who Walter Reed was now and WHY there was a huge Military Medical Complex named after him. The researchers in Cuba were amazingly brave and dedicated to their task in isolating the cause of, and possible preventions for, yellow fever. ...more