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Search tags: Memoirs-and-Biographies
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review 2017-12-05 18:32
The Great Starvation Experiment / Todd Tucker
The Great Starvation Experiment: The Heroic Men Who Starved so That Millions Could Live - Todd Tucker

Near the end of World War II, thirty-six conscientious objectors volunteered to be systematically starved for renowned scientist Ancel Keys’s study at the University of Minnesota in the basement of Memorial Stadium. Aimed to benefit relief efforts in war-ravaged Europe and Asia, the study sought the best way to rehabilitate starving citizens. Tucker captures a lost moment in American history—a time when stanch idealism and a deep willingness to sacrifice trumped even basic human needs.

 

This was a fascinating read in that can’t-look-away-from-the-car-accident kind of way.  If you’ve read any books about dieting, you’ve probably heard about this study.  Indeed, if you’ve ever been on a restrictive, low-calorie diet, you know how your world begins to revolve around food and you have a hard time giving a damn about anything else.  Now I know exactly how normal this is!

 

It was an especially interesting book when read shortly after Night by Elie Wiesel and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  Both men describe the centrality of food in their lives during their incarceration in the prison camps.  They talk about not having the energy or the brain power to spare to help others, even family members.

 

Ancel Keys’ experiment would certainly never be green-lighted today.  Despite the fact that his subjects were volunteers (conscientious objectors who chose the experiment rather than military service) and they knew the experience would be difficult, they had no idea how grueling it would be.  It didn’t take long for their sex drives to disappear (Frankl mentions this in the concentration camps, that it actually kept the experience from being worse because no prisoners had the drive to victimize anyone sexually).  Some of the Keys’ guinea pigs (as they were known) continued to go to classes and listen to lectures, but it rapidly became too hard to pay attention.  Keys advised guest lecturers to mention food, which would rivet the men’s attention, at least momentarily.  Meals became the focus of their days and they would become angry & abusive if service was the slightest bit late or if the food was not piping hot (they also felt cold all the time, as their bodies tried to save energy).  A group of men who started out happy, healthy, and social became touchy, angry, and prone to sudden outbursts.  They performed strange rituals with their food—sometimes stirring it all together into a pile for instance.

 

The supposed object of the experiment was to find the best way to get people back to normal after periods of extreme hunger.  It turns out that the conclusion was to feed them!  The guinea pigs ate at least 5000 calories per day when they were permitted to eat freely again and one man distinguished himself by eating over 11,000 calories in one day!  No supplements made any meaningful difference—just food.  That’s the saddest part really, that these men suffered through the experiment and so little was actually learned as a result.

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review 2017-11-15 19:06
Night / Elie Wiesel
Night - Marion Wiesel,Elie Wiesel

An autobiographical narrative in which the author describes his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, watching family and friends die, and how they led him to believe that God is dead.  Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps.

 

I chose this book as one of several Remembrance Day reads. I read Viktor Frankl’s Man's Search for Meaning just before it and, although there are many similarities, there are also interesting differences.

Reading about life in a concentration camp is a brutal experience. Frankl had the advantages of being a grown man and a psychiatrist when he entered the system—he understood human behaviour, both good and bad, and could make assessments that the teenage Wiesel wasn’t able to. The fact is that anyone who survived the death camps ended up doing things that were selfish in order to survive and people who are starving don’t have the emotional energy to spare to care about others. They are numb to both their own suffering and that of even their own family members. Knowing that other prisoners were in worse shape and could have used more help and/or sympathy left these survivors with terrible guilt, feeling that they were faulty human beings who should have done better. They saw horrible things, they did things that they judge themselves for, and it is absolutely no wonder that they had psychological issues for the rest of their lives.

Where Frankl emerged from Auschwitz with a renewed sense of purpose, Wiesel seems to have changed profoundly—from an innocent, religious, and scholarly young man, he became a crusader to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. This book is a testament to his experience, his survival, and his mission.

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review 2017-11-14 17:53
Man's Search for Meaning / Viktor E. Frankl
Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl,Harold S. Kushner

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

 

If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.

This seemed like a fitting book to read on the Remembrance Day weekend, especially since I recently read Anne Frank’s Diaries. It is a harrowing reading experience, but also strangely comforting. Frankl details his concentration camp history in order to show us the how and why of survival.

I think it was Frankel’s even-handedness that impressed me the most. He sees evil when it presents itself, in the form of sadistic guards and other prisoners who lord it over their peers, but he also acknowledges the presence of good people in difficult situations—the server in the food line who always scoops from the bottom of the soup pot, giving everyone a chance at one of those longed-for peas, the guard who nudges the weaker prisoner towards lighter duties, the fellow marcher who offers a hand.

Survival is often a matter of luck—choosing the right work assignment or choosing a favourable move to another camp, but each person was also responsible for their own luck by paying attention and helping others when they were able or stroking the ego of a guard when the chance arose. Frankl points out that most of those who survived had a bigger goal—a loved one to be reunited with or a project to be finished. He credits his half-finished book with getting him through a bout of typhus during his imprisonment.

A tale of grim survival, leading to a sympathetic psychiatric theory. Have you identified your purpose?

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text 2017-10-31 08:00
October Reading Wrap Up
The Undoing (Call Of Crows) - Shelly Laurenston
London Calling - Sara Sheridan
DC Comics: Bombshells Vol. 1 - Marguerite Bennett
DC Comics: Bombshells Vol. 2: Allies - Marguerite Bennett,Marguerite Sauvage
March: Book Three - Andrew Aydin,Nate Powell,John Lewis Gaddis

 Dewey and setting more concrete goals in regards to Halloween Bingo helped me boost my reading back to my normal levels. The quality of my reading also improved from last month's crappy reads. My DNF trigger was pulled a lot this month and everything else about my reading improved greatly.

 

As Halloween Bingo ended yesterday, a big THANK YOU SO MUCH to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for putting on another great game. I am ready for whatever MbD and TA have in store for the next game. I will spend the rest of the year finishing up prompts from the Pop Sugar challenge.

 

Challenges:

BL/GR: 149/150

Pop Sugar: 1; 43/52 prompts filled

Halloween Bingo: 9 squares read; 19/25 overall

Library Love: 2; 48/36 for the year

 

1. Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Aliens square) - 5 stars

 

2. The Undoing (Call of Crows #2) by Shelly Laurenston (Dark Woods square) - 5 stars

 

3. London Calling (Mirabelle Bevan Mystery #2) by Sara Sheridan (Dark London square) - 4.5 stars

 

4. Curiosity Thrilled the Cat (A Magical Cats Mystery #1) by Sofie Kelly (Magical Realism square) - 3 stars

 

5. Sleight of Paw (A Magical Cats Mystery #2) by Sofie Kelly (Amateur Sleuth square) - 3 stars

 

6. Final Crisis by Grant Morrison et al (Monsters square) - 1.5 stars

 

7. DC Bombshells, Volume 1: Enlisted by Marguerite Bennett et al (Dead Will Walk square) - 5 stars

 

8. DC Bombshells, Volume 2: Allies by Marguerite Bennet et al (Supernatural square) - 5 stars

 

9. Frostbite: A Vampire Academy Graphic Novel #2 by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon, and Emma Vieceli (Chilling Children square) - 3.5 stars

 

10. Shadow Kiss: A Vampire Academy Graphic Novel #3 by Richelle Mead, Leigh Dragoon, and Emma Vieceli (Vampires square) - 3.5 stars

 

11. March, Volume 3 by Rep John Lewis et al (Pop Sugar prompt - "month/day in title") - 5 stars

 

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review 2017-10-26 09:22
A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life - Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy was a writer I had known of over many years by reputation. His books, 'The Lords of Discipline', 'The Great Santini', 'The Prince of Tides', and 'My Losing Season' I knew of through either their movie adaptations or via a National Public Radio (NPR) interview. This NPR interview Conroy gave when he was promoting his novel, 'My Losing Season' was one of the best I had ever heard. Conroy was so engaging, both with the radio host and the callers, that he made me - who has yet to read any of his novels - interested in the subject matter. Here was someone, I felt, who cared deeply about the subjects in his novel, and had a deep love for language and the written word. I was enthralled.

So, when I recently came across "A LOWCOUNTRY HEART: Reflections on a Writing Life" in a local independent bookstore, I had to have it. And it doesn't disappoint. This book - containing several of Pat Conroy's musings, reflections, blogs (a word he deplored), speeches, and eulogies from his widow, daughter, and best friend - gives the reader as full and rich a measure of Pat Conroy the writer and man that we are likely to get. He came across to me as a writer who loved and cherished the written word, the fans of his books, enjoyed the company of his fellow writers and their books, was very encouraging and supportive of women writers and up-and-coming writers, valued people, and embraced life to the full. 

"A LOWCOUNTRY HEART" I highly recommend for anyone who wants a fuller understanding of who Pat Conroy was and why his novels encapsulate so much of the magic, power, and beauty of geography, as well as the varied dimensions of the human condition throughout life.

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