I wanted to like this book. The cast of characters was diverse and interesting, I'm a sucker for World War II stories, and the angle in which the auth...moreI wanted to like this book. The cast of characters was diverse and interesting, I'm a sucker for World War II stories, and the angle in which the author was looking at the war from had a lot of potential.
The way that Macintyre presented this material was soooo scattered. Listening while driving, I lasted longer than I would have otherwise. An author with more skill would have been able to find some theme to tie all these different threads together with. Instead, despite being willing plow through, I completely lost interest. Macintyre's flamboyant prose echoed the descriptions of some of his more verbose characters' style of correspondence. This had the effect of making the story less and less substantial as everything was surrounded by melodramatic fluff. After the third or forth fifteen-minute segue about pigeons, I let disc 7 finish and called it quits before the Allies even landed in Normandy. Think I'll look for my D-Day stories elsewhere. (less)
Some readers found this book to be righteous and off-putting when compared with Kingsolver's fiction. I can see how people might think that, but I fou...moreSome readers found this book to be righteous and off-putting when compared with Kingsolver's fiction. I can see how people might think that, but I found "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" completely inspirational. As someone who is aspiring to grow some of their own food, the Kingsolvers' family journey gave me hope, and something to work towards. I don't always buy local, or organic, or shop primarily at farmers' markets, but I do have an ethical crisis almost every time I go to the grocery store that is sometimes paralyzing. I have spent ten minutes deciding what type of oil to get--should I buy the certainly GM/Monsanto sponsored generic brand of vegetable or canola oil for three dollars, or spend eight on a non-GMO organic product? Does it really matter if I buy conventional over organic cauliflower when the pesticides found in it are minimal? Can I stomach buying non-fair trade sugar, chocolate, bananas, and coffee to save a couple dollars that were made from poorly treating the workers? Should I buy this bacon made from ill-abused pigs just because it's half the price of local, pampered pork? For some, this may be a no-brainer, but it wreaks havoc on my conscious every time I put one of these items in my shopping cart. As Kingsolver and her family detail to us so eloquently, these choices have a much larger effect than we can even begin to see while standing in a supermarket. I'm thankful that they gave such a wry and sympathetic voice to those of us who find ourselves neck-deep in a quandary over the modern state of food. I am doubly grateful that they gave us a variety of ways to work with it--from going all out locavore and farming, to simply making an effort to make one local meal a week. Food choices matter, and "cheap" doesn't translate to the effect that industrial farming practices are having on the environment. If your pocket-book can bear it, why not make sure that ethical and/or local farmers are earning a living wage by paying a little more for your food?(less)
I had the distinct luck of being in McLeod Ganj, India, when the Dalai Lama gave a teaching and reading of "The Way Of the Bodhisattva", which I happe...moreI had the distinct luck of being in McLeod Ganj, India, when the Dalai Lama gave a teaching and reading of "The Way Of the Bodhisattva", which I happened to bring my own copy all the way from the US via Kyrgyzstan. It was crowded but free, and I sat on a pillow and listened to the translation through headphones. The sad thing is that one of the things I remember most is my legs falling asleep a whole bunch. Still, a classic work that I hope to revisit one day. (less)
I wish I could send this book back in time to myself, to my parents, and to all adult introverts who felt like there was something wrong with them gro...moreI wish I could send this book back in time to myself, to my parents, and to all adult introverts who felt like there was something wrong with them growing up because they would often rather be reading than go to a party. I used to think I could change, become gregarious, less sensitive, less intense, more extroverted. Given that I was in daycare since I was three months old, it made no sense to me that I was still so shy. One former classmate of mine--in graduate school no less--remarked when I mentioned being an introvert: "My sister's an introvert. She doesn't like people either". I wish I had been armed with Cain's book then, at which point I could counter that no, that's not it at all. It's not that I don't like people. I just find them overwhelming sometimes, and at these times I prefer to be on my own.
Cain's book has so many strengths that listing them seems daunting. Rather, I felt that the only thing that she didn't address to my satisfaction was that there are indeed some times when introversion can be coupled with a pathological psychology, in which case the pathology can be so furthered by introversion that becomes isolation. However, that wasn't her mission. Instead, she wrote a brilliantly readable manifesto in praise of the introvert. It makes sense that even though up to half of the American population are included in this personality trait, it would take us a while to get around to speaking up for ourselves in such an extrovert-dominant country. In one example, Cain cites an introverted nine-year-old who got beat up by his four-year-old brother. I could empathize, given that something similar happened to me in daycare. If only it could be more widely understood that this passivity is often coupled with sensitivity, and that it is not necessarily the flaw that my incredulous daycare provider thought as my four-year-old self got bullied by a toddler. Cain profiles Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and others who lead despite their shyness, with their passivity giving strength to their cause, and their sensitivity fueling their inner sense of justice.
For anyone who has had to come to terms with their own love of solitude, one-on-one interactions, and the inner life of the mind, I highly recommend this book. I would even recommend it to extroverts who want to understand their introverted spouses, friends, or family members, or who simply want to get more in touch with their creative or scholarly side. Five stars, no question. (less)
Mircea Eliade’s “the Myth of the Eternal Return” is, on one level, an exposition of myths that explore and illustrate the concept of cyclical time. El...moreMircea Eliade’s “the Myth of the Eternal Return” is, on one level, an exposition of myths that explore and illustrate the concept of cyclical time. Eliade spans the globe recounting stories that outline his thesis, which is that man who lived in “traditional”, “archaic” societies lived in a world without history/non-linear time. Instead, he posits, they lived in a world that was created anew through ritual and the absorption of profane time into the sacred through the repetition of primordial gestures. “...[A]ll the important acts of life were revealed ab origine by gods or heroes. Men only repeat these exemplary and paradigmatic gestures ad infinitum.” (32). This in turn allowed “archaic” man live in a cyclic, instead of linear timeline, where purification of evils was possible through religious cleansing: “...[T]he man of the archaic civilizations can be proud of his mode of existence, which allows him to be free and to create. He is free to be no longer what he was, free to annul his own history though periodic abolition of time and collective regeneration. This freedom in respect to his own history--which, for the modern [man], is not only irreversible but constitutes human existence--cannot be claimed by the man who wills to be historical. We know that the archaic and traditional societies granted freedom each year to begin a new, “pure” existence, with virgin possibilities.” (57) On another level, beyond the academics, is the personal. I found it impossible to read “The Myth of Eternal Return” without reflecting on when it was written. Originally published in France in 1949, it was presumably written in the years directly following the end of World War II. Though the majority of the book is given over to the illustration of non-linear time, the ending is dedicated to the present. In the final chapter, entitled “The Terror of History”, Eliade explores what is left for humankind, spiritually, when we are confronted with an extraordinarily awful event, like, for example, World War II, without a mythology that would enable us to purify the world: “What consolation should we find in knowing that the suffering of millions of men have made possible the revelation of a limitary situations of the human condition of, beyond that limitary situation, there should be only nothingness?...If, for historical tragedies to be excused, it suffices that they should be regarded as the means by which man has been enabled to know the limit of human resistance, such an excuse can in no way make man less haunted by the terror of history.” (160). So much of “Myth...” is given over to recounting various rituals and stories of “archaic” society, that at times I became bogged down by the scholastic. As a non-academic reader, I felt that there was a deficit of philosophizing in favor of illustration of the same point from a wide variety of angles. This is an oxymoron on my part given that Eliade was a distinguished professor of religion, not a philosopher. Yet what good is the academic if it fails to propel forth new ideas and works? Eliade doesn’t necessarily fail in either of these, but they feel paltry compared with how much he mulches through in order to say what feels like the same thing repeatedly. Only in the last chapter does he cut loose of example giving and venture forth onto his own ideas. In the end, what I felt like I got most out of “Myth...” was how much we are all a prisoner of the time in which we live. For all that Elide writes of far flung cultures and times, ghosts of his time follow him throughout this particular work. I’m not sure if this is as present in Eliade’s other books, but in this case, academia feels akin to escapism at times, and rationalization of the horror of World War II at others. His conclusion: “...[T]he man who has left the horizon of archetypes and repetition can no longer defend himself against [the] terror [of history] except through the idea of God. In fact, it is only by presupposing the existence of God that he conquers, on the one hand, freedom, and, on the other hand, the certainty that historical tragedies have a transhistorical meaning, even if that meaning is not always visible for humanity in its present condition. Any other situation of modern man leads, in the end, to despair. It is a despair provoked not by his own human existentiality, but by his presence in a historical universe in which almost the whole of mankind lives prey to a continual terror (Even if not always conscious of it). In this respects, Christianity incontestably proves to be the religion of “fallen man”: and this to the extent to which modern man is irremediably identified with history and progress, and to which history and progress are a fall, both implying the final abandonment of the paradise of archetypes and repetition.” (162)(less)
Holy moly. I listened to this book on tape each day while I walked my dogs--I laughed, I teared up, I recoiled in horror--I wonder what people passing...moreHoly moly. I listened to this book on tape each day while I walked my dogs--I laughed, I teared up, I recoiled in horror--I wonder what people passing by made of my expressions? The three miles went by quickly, one disc per walk. At first, I couldn't wait to take the walk and hear what happened next. As the story went on, I began to almost dread what the upcoming miles had in store for me, I mean, Louis Zamporini. I listened cringing inside but enthralled as Louis lived through ordeals that tested the limits of human endurance. Lauren Hillenbrand's precise and detailed descriptions were heartbreaking in their compassionate detachment from what was one man's horrific reality. Some question the accuracy of the recall of events that happened more than sixty years ago. I have no opinion about that whatsoever, but both the storytellers and the author did an amazing job making the war come alive. With minimal sentimentality, Hillenbrand showed temperance in telling a story that contains every emotion on the spectrum of feelings, allowing her description of the action to dictate how the reader feels rather than trying to wring it out of them. The themes involved are deep, too deep for a goodreads review. This is not a perfect book, but it is a worthwhile one, and I recommend it highly on that basis. You cannot read without pondering the deeper nature of humanity, and knowing that it is a true story makes it even more powerful. As the last of the World War 2 veterans pass on, books like these become even more important so that we remember not to forget what happens when we enter into war. (less)
Not to be judgmental or unoriginal, but L. Ron Hubbard sounds like a narcissistic ass with a god complex. Reading the details about how this was true...moreNot to be judgmental or unoriginal, but L. Ron Hubbard sounds like a narcissistic ass with a god complex. Reading the details about how this was true was painful, and did not make me want to continue. More compelling were the stories of people who became enthralled with Scientology, but the place in the book where I was when the library due date came was still depicting the life of Mr. Hubbard, and I was not sorry to see the book disappear as I slipped it into the library return slot. (less)
Siddhartha Mukherjee begins the first chapter of The Emperor of All Maladies with the story of a cancer patient, Carla Reed. Carla is a thirty-somethi...moreSiddhartha Mukherjee begins the first chapter of The Emperor of All Maladies with the story of a cancer patient, Carla Reed. Carla is a thirty-something kindergarten teacher debilitated by her cancer. At first her symptoms are ignored by her doctor, who tells her to take some aspirin, but after a month her blood is finally drawn, and the blood comes out “watery, pale, and dilute...hardly resembl[ing] blood.” (2). Carla is diagnosed with leukemia, and winds up at Massachusetts General Hospital as Mukherjee’s patient. Throughout the 470 pages that make up the bulk of his text, Mukherjee will return to Carla as a touchstone, her battle with leukemia serving as a stand-in for lay people in this dense “biography of cancer”. He discusses many of his patients, but Carla frames the beginning and the end. Her story surfaces at various points to re-engage us with the human face of cancer, rather than thinking of it in terms of abstract statistics and study results. This is what makes The Emperor of All Maladies so accessible; the front lines of the so-called War Against Cancer span from the laboratory to the hospital bed, and Mukherjee treats each with equal respect.
Carla is not the only recurring character in this biography, but one of many. The cast includes large figureheads such as Mary Lasker, a New York socialite who makes cancer her chief cause; Sidney Farber, the founder of “The Jimmy Fund”--founded in 1948 to combat childhood leukemia; Emil Frei and Emil Freireich, medical researchers at the NCI who were trailblazers in the field of chemotherapy; William Stewart Halsted, who popularized the radical mastectomy; and other figures that may not have achieved the same level of fame for their discoveries, but were instrumental in the research and treatment of cancer. Mukherjee skillfully combines the stories of these individuals without loosing sight of what unites them all--the struggle to better understand and treat a seemingly indomitable opponent.
The general format for The Emperor of All Maladies is cyclical in nature, not linear. Mukherjee plunges into a story, then backtracks to explain. For every development that is made in the treatment and identification of various cancers, there are long backstories of the physicians and scientists who made the initial discoveries which were to set future physicians and scientists on the right track. The reader bounces around in time, spirals from the personal to the historical, from patient to medical pioneer. Just as cancer appears and reappears in various places throughout the body, so do the characters and developments made in research.
Throughout the book, Mukherjee highlights what becomes apparent as the language of cancer. It is a war, a battle, a fight. With death looming as a specter over every cancer patient, it is easy to see how the vocabulary around cancer is a militant one. The attitudes of the people called to participate in the battle embody this. Halstead and his followers push the limits of the radical mastectomy, taking more and more tissue in their quest to eradicate cancer surgically. Frei and Freireich boldly pump their patients full of toxic and experimental chemicals trying to stop the growth of and shrink tumors despite the reservations of the NCI. When Mary Lasker takes up the cause of cancer, she scours Washington D.C. to drum up support for a crusade, a War on Cancer, hoping to conquer cancer by the 200th birthday of the United States. These words reflect the arrogance, tenacity, and dogged hope that kept and keeps the science and funding of oncology going.
One story that has stayed with me after the reading was that of the discovery of Min Chiu Li. He was originally a draft dodger seeking refuge in the NCI without any real commitment to cancer. After a choriocarcinoma patient bled to death while he was treating her, he found his passion. When a new patient came in with the same disease, he treated her with antifolates, then only an experimental treatment for choriocarcinoma. Her cancer disappeared, and Li and his associate’s findings were published.
However, there was something that didn’t sit right with Li. The marker secreted by choriocarcinoma is called choriogonadotropin, and Li “decided that he would use that hormone level to track the course of the cancer as it responded to methotrexate. The hcg level...would be a surrogate for the cancer, its fingerprint in the blood.” (137). Even after the tumor was gone, traces of hcg remained in the blood. Li became obsessed with tracking hcg levels in his patients, and administered chemotherapy until the hcg was gone. The NCI found out about Li’s treatment strategy, and promptly fired him. To them, it seemed the tumor was gone, so treatment should be stopped. “‘Li was accused of experimenting on people,’ Freireich said. ‘But of course, all of us were experimenting. Tom [Frei] and Zubrod and the rest of them--we were all experimenters. To not experiment would mean to follow the old rules--to do absolutely nothing. Li wasn’t prepared to sit back and watch and do nothing. So he was fired for acting on his convictions, for doing something.’” (137-8).
The irony of the story is that Li was right. Patients who had stopped treatment when their tumor was gone relapsed, and those that had been treated by Li remained well. “Li had stumbled on a deep and fundamental principle of oncology: cancer needed to be systematically treated long after every visible sign of it had vanished. The hcg level...had turned out to be its real fingerprint, its marker. In the decades that followed, trial after trial would prove this principle. But in 1960, oncology was not yet ready for this proposal. Not until several years later did it strike the board that had fired Li so hastily that the patients he had treated with the prolonged maintenance strategy would never relapse. This strategy--which cost Min Chiu Li his job--resulted in the first chemotheraputic cure of cancer in adults.” (138).
There are many other stories like this. At times, The Emperor of All Maladies feels almost like more of a collection of short stories about cancer rather than a continuous novel that moves forward at a steady pace. A character such as Mary Lasker will play a large role, then disappear only to resurface one hundred pages later to enact another drama. Others like Li will pass by as a blip, perhaps with only a faint echo later on. Mukherjee shifts from one subject to another, taking his time to fully illustrate a given story before he weaves it in to the larger framework. Doing so, he keeps our attention, but also creates a labyrinthian portrait of cancer, nearly worthy of Dickens or Tolstoy. (less)