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review 2018-03-16 15:54
Ever wondered about the anatomy of a leech?
Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything - Lydia Kang,Nate Pedersen

As soon as I saw Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang I knew that I had to get it in my hands. If the name alone doesn't intrigue you then I don't know what will. This book is full to bursting with historical facts about crazy medical practices through the ages. It is an excellent resource about the history of the medical profession as well as education and social change. Much like when I read Soonish, I felt that it was a little heavy with the 'relatable' humor but this was easily overlooked. (I think Kang pulled it off better anyway.) As someone who has read quite a bit about the history of medicine, I was surprised by just how much I didn't know. For example, did you know that leeches have 3 stomachs, 3 jaws, and 100 teeth in each of those jaws?! Kang sets up the different medical practices and procedures by first giving a history of the person that started it off (generally a 'medical practitioner' or someone at least purporting to be one). She then shares accounts from the patients who endured such crazy routines (like bloodletting or ingesting arsenic) paired with diagrams of the medical equipment used to accomplish such feats. (I hope you have a strong stomach for the bloodletting chapter.) I especially enjoyed the little asides about what we now know about the concoctions put together long ago to 'cure' and how the vast majority of them were either complete hokum or actually increased the chances of the patient suffering an agonizing death. It makes you wonder how the future generations will view our supposedly 'innovative' medicines and treatments of the sick. Will we be seen as medical charlatans and blind fools or will they take into account the socioeconomic and political climate that we live in and how that shapes our view on medicine as a whole? As you read this book (and I hope you will) ponder that very question because then perhaps you won't judge past generations quite so harshly...unless it's the guys who took Strychnine in order to increase their sex drive. Always judge those guys. 9/10


I wasn't lying about the leeches. [Source: Amazon]



What's Up Next: HiLo Book 4: Waking the Monsters by Jeff Winick


What I'm Currently Reading: The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius


Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-03-15 16:53
A psychologically astute book that will make you think about your own mortality. And what an ending!
The Healer - Christoph Fischer

I have read and reviewed a couple of the author’s books in the past and enjoyed them, and I was intrigued by this book when it came out, but due to my personal circumstances (my father suffered from cancer and died around the time of its publication) I didn’t feel I was in the best frame of mind for it. Now that it has been published as part of The Fraud and Miracle Trilogy, I was very pleased to receive a paperback copy and finally get to read it.

The story is deceptively simple. A woman suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer, desperate, follows the advice of her personal assistant and approaches a healer, Arpan. I am not sure if he would call himself a “faith” healer, but he insists that those he treats should be totally invested in the process, including transferring 50% of their assets to his account. Although he states all that money goes to charity, it caused suspicion and scandal years back, and he has been keeping a low profile ever since. After much insistence and a different deal, he agrees to treat Erica, who also has secrets of her own. There are strange conspiracies surrounding Arpan and his healing process but Erica’s life is changed forever. Things are not as they seem, of course.

The story is written in the third person from Erica’s point of view, and we get to share in her doubts, suspicions, paranoia, hope, and also to experience the healing with her. The book transmits a sense of claustrophobia, and although there are treks around the Welsh countryside and later we move to a different country, most of the story takes place within Arpan’s tent, and there are only a few main characters (mostly Erica (Maria), Arpan (Amesh), and Anuj) with some secondary characters that we don’t get to know very well (Hilda, Julia, Gunnar). There are no lengthy descriptions of settings or of the appearance of the characters, because we follow the point of view of a woman totally preoccupied with her health and her mortality, and that makes her not the most reliable of narrators. She describes the physical and mental effects that the illness and the healing process have on her, and we are also privy to her suspicions and doubts. The book offers fascinating psychological insights into how much our “rational” point of view can change when our life is at stake, and it is impossible to read it and not wonder what we would do in Erica’s place.

I kept thinking that the story, which relies heavily on dialogue (both between characters and also internal dialogue), would make a great play, and its intensity would be well suited to the stage. Although most of the characters are not sympathetic, to begin with, their humanity and the big questions they are forced to deal with make them intriguing and worthy subjects of our observations.

The ending brings a great twist to the story. Although I think most readers will have been suspicious and on alert due to the secrets, false information, continuous doubts, and different versions of the truth on offer, the actual ending will make them question everything and re-evaluate the story in a different light. And, considering the nature of the subject it deals with, that is a great achievement.

I recommend it to those who enjoy stories that make them think, to readers who are not searching for cheap thrills and prefer a psychologically astute book and especially to those who want to feel personally invested in the stories they read. I look forward to the rest of the books in the trilogy.


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review 2018-03-11 01:43
It's a story beautifully told, but that doesn't make me less tired of it.
Medicine Walk - Richard Wagamese,Tom Stechschulte

(I have to acknowledge that this is pretty well in the "not for me" category, but setting that aside, here we go!)


The writing is gorgeous. It's set in the BC interior in about the 1970s, and it has a fantastic sense of place and time. There are multiple layers of community and place and history, and Wagamese really draws that out. The land is evoked vividly, and sometimes brutally, and it feels like what I've known of those places on a bone-deep level.


The story is about, on a deeper level, how utterly the concept of manhood can be messed up by a lack of positive male role models. Here that story is specifically about how the colonial system worked to strip first nations boys from ever having a chance at knowing their families, let alone their ancestors and traditions, and how adrift that set generation after generation of men. That too is vividly and brutally told.


On the surface level, it's about a man who has messed up and poisoned everything he has ever touched. A hearty dose of alcohol poisoning has led him to the end of his life, and now he has one last chance to reconnect with his teenage son (who had the good fortune of being raised by someone mostly more sensible). The son agrees to go on the Road Trip of Death, to learn about his heritage, and to bury his father in what as far as they can tell is a traditional fashion (though possibly not their own cultural tradition).


Honestly, I think all of these characters would have been better off if the father had just written the kid a long letter with all the info he coughs up on the three or four days of dying in this poor kid's arms. I don't especially care for the idea that a child is morally required to give doomsday chances to their abusive parents. In my opinion, spending your life alternately neglecting your kid and taking him on terrifying drinking binges does not entitle you to emotionally blackmail said kid into comforting you on your deathbed, and I'm tired of stories that imply that. (This one was somewhat saved by the kid continuing to be angry throughout, but nevertheless!)


(There was also a secondary character who knew almost all of the really important bits of this info, but decided it was the father's place to pass it on, not his, to which I call massive amounts of bullshit.)


All of the female characters were either saintly, dead or saintly and dead, with the exception of that one prostitute (the other prostitute was saintly). They are universally cogs in the men's stories, not characters with agency and dreams of their own. I'm also pretty tired of that story. I'm curious if that's a theme in this author's books, of if the story-specific if the fixation on fatherhood/manhood drew it out.


I feel like my dad might like this book? It is gorgeously written, just not for me.

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review 2017-12-29 14:50
My eighty-third podcast is up!
Jonas Salk: A Life - Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs about her biography of the pioneering medical researcher Jonas Salk, the man who developed the first effective polio vaccine. Enjoy!

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review 2017-11-28 21:52
For readers who love inspirational stories, complex female characters, and historical fiction
Bear Medicine: A Novel - G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

I have read two of Elizabeth Kretchmer’s books before. The Damnable Legacy (you can check my review here) and Women on the Brink (check the review here) and enjoyed them. When I was informed that the author had published a new book, I had to check it out.

Once again, Kretchmer focuses on issues that relate to women’s lives and also to the environment and to human beings’ place in the world. The story is narrated by two women, Brooke and Anne, in the first-person. Although both women have a lot in common (both are married and not terribly happy in their marriages, although they are not fully aware of it or at least they haven’t acknowledged it to themselves yet, and they both love nature), they are separated by a hundred and forty years. Whilst Brooke lives in our present, Anne convinces her husband to visit Yellowstone not long after the Park is established, seriously underestimating the risks. Both women suffer because of their decisions (Brooke is mauled by a grizzly bear and is seriously injured, and Anne ends up alone and defenseless without experience on surviving in the wild) and are helped by other women. And in both cases, these seemingly terrible decisions end up totally changing their lives. The book is part contemporary women’s fiction and part historical fiction, and an inspirational read.

Both characters are sympathetic because of the terrible circumstances they find themselves in, although they are not the standard heroines that suddenly and almost magically become enlightened and proficient at everything. They sometimes show little insight into their real situations, can be naïve, do little to help themselves, moan, and take one step forward and two steps back. If anything, Anne, who married young and has little experience of the world, seems to take to the new situation and accept Meg’s teachings more easily, although it must have been a bigger shock to her and farther away from her everyday experience. The society of her time was also more prejudiced, and the fact that she becomes best friends with a Native American woman is much more of a leap of faith than Brooke’s friendship with Laila and her confused feelings about the younger woman. But Brooke has also been victimised (even though it takes her quite a while to accept that) for much longer, has two grown-up children, and therefore has much more to lose. It is understandable that she struggles more and it takes her longer to fully embrace her new reality. I think most women will recognize themselves in one of the characters, either the narrators or their friends and helpers, and feel personally involved in the novel.

The writing is beautifully descriptive and there are very touching moments, some because of the extremes of emotion and suffering, and some because of the moments of clarity and insight that the love of the women and their cooperation with each other brings them. The author has done her research (she explains her process at the end and also acknowledges her sources) and I learned much about the birth of Yellowstone and the Indian Wars by reading this book.

There are serious and current subjects discussed in the novel (abuse [mental, physical, and sexual], rape, drug abuse, mental illness, nature and environment, the protection of wild animals, politics, parent-child relationship), there are adventures and risky situations, secrets, betrayal, and plenty of love. Although most readers will figure out soon enough the connection between the two women, we care enough for both characters and their adventures to keep reading and hoping we will be right about the end. And yes, the ending is empowering and positive too.

An emotional book (yes, I did cry), an enlightened book, and also a realistic book, that shows us some women who are not the perfect heroines, all powerful and knowing, but who make mistakes, hesitate, don’t know what to do for the best, and can be annoying and irritating at times, but who become stronger and learn about themselves by joining with other women and choosing to work together.

An inspiring read and a book that I recommend to women (and men) who enjoy multi-dimensional characters. It will also delight people who love historical fiction, in particular, the Indian Wars, and readers interested in Native American tradition and mythology. Another great book by a writer I will keep my eye on.

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