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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-07 03:06
Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

TITLE:  Get Well Soon:  History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them

 

AUTHOR:  Jennifer Wright

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781627797467

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DESCRIPTION:

"A humorous book about history's worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them.

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they've suffered from. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering. With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.
"

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*********************POSSIBLE SPOILERS**********************************

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REVIEW:

 

This poorly written book is a collection of superficial, sensationalist, chatty chapters on a variety of epidemics (and two extras) that are supposed to be history’s worst plagues (some are, some aren’t) and the heroes (or more likely ignorant fools according to the author) who fought them.  There is no original content or any type of original insights in this book, but there are a vast quantity of quotes straight from other (better written) books.  This book is long on opinions and short on science, so if you are looking for science, try any of the recommended books below.  The topics covered include:  the Antonine Plague; Bubonic Plague; Dancing Plague; Smallpox; Syphilis; Tuberculosis; Cholera; Leprosy; Typhoid; Spanish Flu; Encephalitis Lethargica; Lobotomies; Polio; and as an afterthought, HIV/AIDS

 

Wright spends little time discussing the origins and emergence of most the epidemics covered in this book.  There is a very limited examination of what the disease actually does to a human body (other than the gory bits usually including pustules) or how widespread and devasting it was in terms of socio-economic factors (especially the later chapters).  Only a few chapters explain how that particular epidemic ended or even if it did end or what the status of that particular disease is currently.  Some of the chosen epidemics weren’t the “worst plagues” by any means or even an epidemic (depending on the definition), or even diseases for that matter (e.g. chapter on lobotomies and dancing plague).  The author does not provide a partial view of the topic, and can’t wait to assign villains or heroes to each disease, or to insult and mock anyone she feels like. 

 

Some of the information presented in this book is suspect, or at least outdated, especially in the chapters dealing with TB, cholera, polio, leprosy and Antonine plague.  Wikipedia is not a valid reference.  It is also apparent from the excessive insertions of the author’s own opinions that she didn’t bother to research the topics or the people involved too closely either.  The author also contradicts herself in the matter of informed consent – informed consent is necessary when she agrees with it, but unnecessary when she doesn’t agree with it.  In addition, if you are going to use a graphic (in a published book of all places!) to show the rate of medical progress over time, learn to draw a proper graph with defined, labelled axes (or get someone else to do it!), instead of a random floating line which means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

 

Wright has an especially aggravating writing style.  Altogether, the writing style was too juvenile and frivolous for the subject matter (squealing, ditzy Hollywood cheerleaders come to mind).  Each chapter comes across as a series of book reports covering a different epidemic per chapter – written by an immature teenager or a vapid blogger.  The specific chapters rely predominantly on one major source, usually a much better written book on the topic.  This book is an simplistic and biased glossing of historical epidemics (mostly) that the author has used as an opportunity to snicker, criticise, preach her opinions and sensationalise in terms of emphasizing the unpleasant side-effects of the disease (pustules, rotting noses, the more disgusting the better etc).  

 

The book is stuffed with flat jokes (the jokes weren't even vaguely funny), dated pop-culture reference, snide and snarky comments,  speculations, not to mention the author’s excessive and continuous interjections of her mean-spirited opinions, and political commentary, which were unwarranted, irrelevant, not to mention unprofessional.  Wright makes broad sweeping generalizations and seems to be uninterested in viewing these epidemics within their historical context.  The tone is dripping with sarcasm and contempt for the poor people that suffered from these terrible disease, and Heaven save you from the author’s vicious pen, if you were one of the unfortunate doctors who were trying to help with the limited knowledge and instrumentation of pre-21st century medical knowledge.

 

It is possible to write medical nonfiction in an interesting manner without sounding like a vapid teenager.  I learnt more about the author from all her snide opinions than any of the diseases from this book.  This book comes across as a poor imitation of a Mary Roach book, so if you like Mary Roach’s books, you might (possibly) like this one.  If you want a book that tells you something of the how, where and why of a variety of diseases; you need to look elsewhere.  I found Wright’s shallow, cruel and arrogantly opinionated writing style an insult to the reader and personally repellent.

 

 

POST SCRIPT:

 

For those people who think the Ancient Roman cities did not have sewer systems, please do some basic research:

 

SHORT VERSION

Roman sewers – ancient Roman toilets, poop, pipes

 

 MORE DETAILS

What toilets and sewers tell us about ancient Roman sanitation

Rome Is Still Technically Using One Of The First Sewer Systems In The World

Aqueducts and Wastewater Systems of Rome

 

 

OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS

 

Compilation of Diseases:

~The Coming Plague:  Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett

~New Killer Diseases:  How the Alarming Evolution of Germs Threatens Us All by Elinor Levy

~The History of Disease in Ancient Times by Philip Norrie

~Viruses, Plagues, and History:  Past, Present and Future (Revised, Updated Edition) by Michael B.A. Oldstone

 

Plumbing and Personal Hygiene:

~Flushed:  How the Plumber Saved Civilization by W. Hodding Carter

~The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us about Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society by David Waltner-Toews

~The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History by Katherine Ashenburg

 ~The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George

 

Diseases in General:

~Spillover:  Emerging Diseases, Animal Hosts, and the Future of Human Health by David Quammen

~Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David P. Clark

~An Unnatural History of Emerging Infections by Ron Barrett & George Armelagos

 

Specific Diseases:

~The Great Mortality:  An Intimate Hsitory of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly

~Dancing Plague:  The Strange True Story of an Extraordinary Illness by John Waller

~Superbug:  The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna

~Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy

 

Other:

~Strange Medicine:  A Shocking History of Real Medical Practices Through the Ages by Nathan Belofsky

~Betrayal of Trust by Laurie Garrett [This book gives a great insight into how disease progressed in different countries and the social conditions and public health failings (and victories) that shaped how we understand infectious disease].

 

 

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review 2018-07-10 09:15
The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

TITLE:  The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions

 

AUTHOR:  Thomas McNamee

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9780316262873

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Book Description:

"Our feline companions are much-loved but often mysterious. In The Inner Life of Cats, Thomas McNamee blends scientific reportage with engaging, illustrative anecdotes about his own beloved cat, Augusta, to explore and illuminate the secrets and enigmas of her kind.

As it begins, The Inner Life of Cats follows the development of the young Augusta while simultaneously explaining the basics of a kitten's physiological and psychological development. As the narrative progresses, McNamee also charts cats' evolution, explores a feral cat colony in Rome, tells the story of Augusta's life and adventures, and consults with behavioral experts, animal activists, and researchers, who will help readers more fully understand cats.

McNamee shows that with deeper knowledge of cats' developmental phases and individual idiosyncrasies, we can do a better job of guiding cats' maturation and improving the quality of their lives. Readers' relationships with their feline friends will be happier and more harmonious because of this book.
"

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This book was less about the inner lives of cats, or the science and secrets of cats than an ode and memoir about the author's cat, Augusta. 

 

The science bits were interesting though some of the numbers quoted lack a reference and make verification difficult.  There were also many interesting sections on feral cats in Rome, sensory input and raising kittens and the semi-domestic nature of cats, as well as the stupidity of humans who keep wild animals in their homes and are surprised when it eats them or shreds the house.  The majority of the book involves stories about Augusta.  Sometimes these stories tied in with the more informative parts of the book, sometimes they didn't. 

 

I haven't lived with a cat for years, so I'm not as inclined as cat-owners to go all soppy over the Augusta sections (maybe if Augusta was a German Shepherd it might have been different), but I did find the book entertaining and well-written though lacking in science.

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OTHER BOOKS:

 

-The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World by Abigail Tucker

 

- Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life by Matin Durrani & Liz Kalaugher

 

- Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World by Richard C. Francis

 

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text 2018-02-14 22:55
Reading progress: 12%.
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life - Helen Czerski

Hmm...

No one has ever seen the battle between a sperm whale and a giant squid.

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text 2018-02-13 23:40
Reading progress: 5%.
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life - Helen Czerski

So far, I like the author's "voice." Readable, without dumbing down or overcompkicating the information.  Her enjoyment if the field comes through:

Knowing about some basic bits of physics turns the world into a toybox.

Too soon ffor me to tell if I'll learn lots of new stuff, have twists/viewpoints to old knowledge made re-interesting, or find this to just be recycling some popular physics I already knew.  The other posts in my dashboard have caught my interest and it sounds promising.

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text 2018-02-13 22:38
Reading progress: 1%.
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life - Helen Czerski

This process of discovery is science: the continual refinement and testing of our understanding, alongside the digging that reveals even more to be understood.

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