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 nothing...moreI 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. (less)
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...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 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.(less)
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 travel...moreI 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. (less)
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 pa...moreI 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. (less)