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review 2017-03-24 21:00
A good book to gain an overview on a particularly complex and fascinating topic for those working in law and/or psychiatry.
Mad or Bad: Crime and Insanity in Victorian Britain - David J. Vaughan

Thanks to Pen and Sword History for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book that I voluntarily review.

As a psychiatrist, and having worked in forensic psychiatry in the UK for a number of years, mad or bad is indeed one of the questions that we’re asked very often. (Of course, the two categories are not mutually exclusive, but in the eyes of the law there are certain prerequisites that need to be complied with to be able to apportion guilt). Therefore, I was very curious to read this book that dealt with the issue of insanity and criminal justice in the Victorian era.

The book is divided into five parts, discussing the main players in the debate, the conditions that were listed under the insanity label, the history of the debate, a part discussing ‘mad women, bad women’, and the last and longest part that discusses in more detail the case studies that caused the debates and the legal changes discussed in the book.

Personally, I was fascinated by reading details about the cases behind some of the defences and legal terms still in use today. Having an overall view of the period and what was behind the discussions illuminates and helps explain the legal changes, placing them at a historical and social moment in time. As a psychiatrist, I was particularly interested in the issues of diagnosis and the discussions as to the different categories used to classify disturbed mental states, including some that sound difficult to believe now (like the many ‘women’s conditions’ that justified all kinds of crimes). Although the details of some of the cases and the discussions might sound bizarre, the truth is that matters are not that clear even now, and even if the debates are framed differently, a decision is not always easy to reach.

The case stories are fascinating to read in their own right and cover the most famous and relevant cases of the era. They provide a great overview without going into excessive detail and would be a good starting point for people who want to delve deeper into the subject, whilst providing a general background to others who might be looking for orientation and general reading on the topic. The book is well organised, written clearly, and provides a good summary of the main issues whilst illustrating them well without excess detail or the use of unnecessarily complicated terms.

A good read for anybody interested in issues of criminal justice, insanity and law in Victorian England, particularly those that pertain to the treatment of women by the legal system of the time. A word of warning: the passing of time hasn’t made these cases less upsetting or shocking, so although the book doesn’t dwell unnecessarily on the gore details, you might find some of them hard to read.

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review 2017-03-23 21:09
Number the Stars
Number the Stars - Lois Lowry

Number the Stars is the story about Annemarie, who is growing up during WWII. When her best friend Ellen goes into hiding due to Jewish persecution, she learns a lot about bravery and the world she lives in. 

Number the Stars received a Lexile score of 670L, making it readable for most 6th grade readers. This book can be used in conjunction with history to teach about historical perspectives. Students will gain an understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust. Students can also analyze Annemarie's perspective of the events, and predict what Ellen may have felt throughout the story. 

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text 2017-03-23 20:00
DNF at 20%
Elegy for a Disease: A Personal and Cultural History of Polio - Anne Finger

This is a rambling, incoherent mess. Finger's writing is also very annoying to read due to her constant condescending attitude toward the reader. She does not inform on the history of the disease or how it affected her personally. The final straw was when she wrote about how the oral polio vaccine may be the linchpin to the AIDS epidemic as proof that eradication of polio from the world may not be as awesome as we all want it to be.....wtf?

 

 

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review 2017-03-22 21:08
Review: The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade - Ann Fessler

This was a fast read, but heartbreaking look at the America's "golden era" (post-WWII to 1973). The author is an artist and art professor who works mainly in video and photography; this book is more or less a literary version of her gallery work. It is also deeply personal, as the author was one of the babies surrendered and adopted during this era. The book opens and closes with the author's journey to finding her birth mother.

 

This book is HIGHLY repetitive, to the point that the repetition becomes almost satirical. Every woman profiled is/was white, middle class or upper middle class, Christian, from a two-parent heteronormative family, and never had sex education (either by parents or an organization). Their stories started to blend into one another. The author does broach the subjects of class, race, and religion in the last two chapters devoted to the women and explains why the women profiled were all from the same background. Those chapters were the most interesting from a intersectional feminist historian angle. There were inclusions of women who were date-raped, but at the time did not have the information (or even the words) to understand they had been raped until much later in life. For most of the women, they went in search of their children or made it possible to be found by their children; the author does go into the methods and organizations that are working with both groups to reunite families.

 

These are heartbreaking stories, even if they run together in the readers' heads. Families were particularly cruel to the pregnant teen, but the staff at hospitals and homes for unwed mothers were even more so. They sheer amount of lies, money, and judgment the adoption industry created in the post-WW II years was astounding. However, this book is not anti-adoption, a claim that is brought up in many reviews. They adoption process/legal rights is vastly different today than it was during this time period (much of that is credited to the work of the unwed mothers and surrendered children of this time, who banded together in the late 1970s and early 1980s).

 

I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in maternal issues or women's history.

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review 2017-03-22 20:37
Review: Battlefield Angels by Scott McGaugh
Battlefield Angels: Saving Lives Under Enemy Fire From Valley Forge to Afghanistan (General Military) - Scott McGaugh

Scott McGaugh wrote a decent book about the military medicine corps and how they changed the battlefield throughout America's history. McGaugh is not a historian, which is clear from his choices to profile and how he structured the book; he is a communications director for a museum and so his writing reflects a public relations-type of delivering information. 

 

The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War I each get one chapter that was very much an overview of the wars and where military medicine stood. Each of these chapters felt very similar, as the military was never really mindful of the medics, equipment, or processes that were advancing in the civilian world...until fighting broke out and men were dying. There was a lot of improvisation and development came from the Army branch. The highlight of this section was the mobile ambulance trains; I got to see and explore one on my trip to York's National Railway Museum.

 

This was followed by six chapters on World War II, five of which were devoted to the Marines fighting in the Pacific Ocean. And this is where the book fails a little for me - the one chapter on Europe dealt with the Army's advancement in medicine, but it was a total love fest between the author and the Marines. There was one chapter devoted to medical corpsmen who were POWs under the Japanese which was the most interesting chapter World War II section had.

 

And the Marine love-in continued in the one chapter on the Korean Conflict, even though the highlight of this era's medical advancement was the concept and execution of M.A.S.H. - Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (emphasis mine). Vietnam got two chapters, both dealing with Marines yet again. Ditto for the one chapter on Iraq (combination of Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, which was another fail for me as each operation was very different other than location), although for the first time a female medic was profiled. The lone POC profiled came in the chapter on Afghanistan, but you also get another group of Marines as well.  

 

Did I mention that my branch of service, the USAF, received 0, nada, nothing, Not. One. Damn. Word. about our medical corps? Yeah, this still annoys me a week after reading the book.

 

At the end of each chapter, there was a paragraph or two that just spewed stats about the number of troops involved in that battle/war, the number dying, the number injured - but no real analysis. It was interesting to read, but really only recommend this to military history buffs or medical history readers.

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