Library staff recommend: Science and Medicine bestsellers (part 2)

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This summer, we’re highlighting parts of our collection that you might not have come across before: popular science titles that you’ll find peppered throughout the library shelves. Over the past few weeks, Library and LTS staff have been reading and reviewing a selection of books: many of which are now on display by the helpdesk for you to borrow. You can also browse our handpicked selection here: http://wke.lt/w/s/q3KeB

Take a look at some of our recommended reads below. You can find part one of our staff book reviews here.

 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

For another insight in to the world of neurosurgery you may also like ‘Do no harm’, neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s memoir of his life and work at St George’s.

‘When breath becomes air’ is the autobiography of Paul Kalanithi – neurosurgeon-neuroscientist and writer. The book charts his journey to medicine via English Literature and Human Biology, through the gruelling training in neurosurgery, to his experiences on the other side of the doctor-patient relationship following his diagnosis with stage 4 lung cancer just as he was approaching the end of his neurosurgical residency:

“Instead of being the pastoral figure aiding a life transition, I found myself the sheep, lost and confused.”

The different phases of the book are woven together by Kalanithi’s thoughtful and tender exploration of the question, what gives life meaning? Navigated variously through literature and philosophy, through the visceral experience of practising medicine, and with deep personal insight as he comes to terms with his own diagnosis and prognosis. I believe that what you’ll take from this book is as deeply personal as the story itself, but that overall the book is profoundly life affirming and speaks of the importance of hope in the most difficult of circumstances.

Verity Allison
Journals and e-Resources Librarian

 

Bodies by Jed Mercurio

An unforgiving and at times confronting read, Bodies is one of those rare books that sticks in the mind long after the last page.

Bodies is a disturbing, fascinating and truly compelling fictional account from the front line of hospital life in the late twentieth century.

This first novel by Jed Mercurio, a former doctor turned drama writer whose recent works include the award-winning TV series Line of Duty, was later adapted by the BBC. It charts the day-to-day experiences of the book’s unnamed narrator, who as the story begins has arrived at the hospital for his first day as a newly qualified houseman.

From the start the reader is immersed in the gritty reality of life as a junior doctor: the gruelling hours, lack of sleep, urgent references to the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine and the life and death decisions that have to be made on a daily basis. Mistakes are inevitably made, and the reader shares the narrator’s distress as he struggles with how a simple misjudgment can lead to the most severe of consequences.

The narrator doesn’t flinch as he reveals the reality of the battlefield of hospital life, seamlessly blending stomach-turning episodes on the wards with his own personal life.The reality of his work impacts his faith and also his relationships, which are graphically recounted alongside his work.

As the story progresses, the idealism that a new young doctor brings is tested. He is presented with moral dilemmas and decisions of conscience which force the reader to wonder what path they would take when faced with the reality we have seen through his eyes. An unforgiving and at times confronting read, Bodies is one of those rare books that sticks in the mind long after the last page.

Emily Daniel
Information Assistant

 

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

This book will capture the imagination of all and take you down the rabbit hole into the wonderland of the human brain.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is comprised of a series of case histories of Oliver Sacks’ patients. Sacks, a neurologist, writes about some of the more unique and baffling cases he has come across throughout his career. His patients have different neurological disorders that lead them to navigate the world and their own sense of self in mysterious, startling and sometimes heart-breaking ways. Written over thirty years ago, our knowledge of the nervous system has since developed and some of the terminology is outdated. What makes this book still current is that Sacks does not claim to have all the answers – the brain was then, as it remains now, largely an enigma.

Reading the book, I couldn’t help but ask, how do we make sense of the world, and of our place in it, when perception, memory and cognitive function has gone? For many of us it’s our worst nightmare; we suppose that to lose our past and our sense of the familiar, would be to lose our humanity. The patients in Sacks’ book show a remarkable ability to strive for meaning and identity.

The namesake of the book, Dr P, is a man who has lost his ability to understand what he can see in front of him. In one occurrence, Dr P stares at a glove, pondering over what this strange object with its “five outpouchings” could be. Upon placing his hand within the object he makes sense of its function. It is only then that he declares that it is a glove! He has lost the ability to recognise faces, hence mistaking his wife for a hat. He can perceive features, but not the whole. As a talented musician, he instead ‘sees’ through music: “He had no body-image, he had body-music: this is why he could move and act as fluently as he did”.

Sacks reveals these stories in a frank and humorous light. Sacks aims with this book to “restore the human subject at the centre” of medical case studies. Disease and the individual are not separate entities. Sacks argues that much of the behaviours of his patients are not manifestations of disease. They are an “organised chaos”, responsive to the absolute confusion of disease, through sheer will or desire to live. It encourages the medical profession to positively focus on faculties that remain, or that flourish, under pervading diseases. For those of us without a scientific background, it encourages us to wonder at the marvel of what the human brain is capable of and question what we perceive as ‘lesser’ or ‘deficient’.

Catriona Robertson
FHSCE Liaison Support Librarian

 

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop – David Adam

“I can’t think of a single positive thing about OCD. And I’ve thought about OCD a lot.”

Writer David Adam is fairly unequivocal on the question of whether OCD might have an upside; but he also understands how the largely hidden nature of the suffering it causes might lead to such misperceptions – to the ‘little bit OCD’ of popular imagination. A science journalist who has himself had OCD for over twenty years, Adam realised he might be well-placed to shine a clearer light on the condition; “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop” is the result.

He takes as his starting point the intrusive thoughts and doubts that lie at the heart of OCD – and finds they are actually surprisingly common to us all. So what is it that happens differently in the small number of people who can’t let go of these thoughts – who go on to develop OCD? In the search for answers, Adam takes us on a journey through genetics, childhood experience and misfiring brain circuits among other things. And while he admits there is much still to be understood, he finds some intriguing possibilities.

But it’s perhaps in recounting his own experiences that Adam is able to shine the brightest light – describing with unswerving honesty how it feels to live in the grip of obsessive doubt; or the long journey to find the treatment that keeps that keeps those thoughts – mostly – under control today. His book manages to give both a readable introduction to the evidence, and a voice to personal experiences that have sometimes been overlooked.

Hilary Garrett
Information Assistant

 

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