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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Library staff recommend: Science and Medicine bestsellers (part 1)

book display

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 hand-picked selection here: http://wke.lt/w/s/q3KeB

Take a look at some of our recommended reads below. You can view part 2 of our book reviews here.

 

Why we sleep : the new science of sleep and dreams by Matthew Walker

There will be something to astonish you almost every time you pick it up… I’d recommend this book to everyone.

This brilliant book is packed with incredible facts about the benefits of a good night’s sleep and the consequences of not getting enough good-quality sleep. Matthew Walker, a sleep specialist at the University of California, Berkeley, shows how sleep can improve everything from memory to the efficacy of the flu jab, not to mention productivity at work, mood and even blood sugar levels. He also explains that driving while sleep-deprived can be more dangerous than driving drunk, and that (unfortunately) a weekend lie-in can’t completely compensate for a lack of sleep during the week.  The book is written in a very accessible way that is neither too technical nor overly simplified, which makes it an easy read despite it being absolutely full of information. There will be something to astonish you almost every time you pick it up, and you’ll want to start improving your sleep straight away – handily, the book also includes a few tips on how to do just that. I’d recommend this book to everyone. In Matthew Walker’s words, “sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day”, and that is something we can all benefit from.

Georgina Coles
Information Assistant

 

Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag

Recommended for medical historians or anyone interested in the history of medicine.

First published 40 years ago, Sontag examines the euphemisms, myths and metaphors that surround diseases such as TB, cancer and AIDS. In obituaries, the expression ‘she died after a long illness’ is often a euphemism for ‘she died of breast cancer’. This is because cancer attacks parts of the body that can, to this day, be embarrassing to acknowledge (e.g. breast, colon, testicles). A particular strength of the book is its debunking of the psychological aspects of disease. This relates to the myth that TB, cancer or AIDS sufferers are somehow to blame for contracting their disease. Sontag tracks a line from the ancient Greeks through to the Victorians where disease is perceived as a judgement on the behaviour or morality of the sufferer. And before we gloat about how much more civilised and reasoned we are today, one only has to recall that is was just over 30 years ago (at the height of the AIDS crisis) that singer Donna Summer allegedly remarked that AIDS was God’s punishment to gay men.

Lawrence Jones
Content & Digital Infrastructure Manager

 

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

A great read for anyone who has an interest in debunking medical nonsense. This book will equip you with the skills to see through the ‘Bad Science’ filling our world whilst still managing to be both funny and entertaining.

Ben Goldacre is a medical doctor, academic, campaigner and bestselling author; his first book Bad Science encompasses all of these by picking apart the ‘Bad Science’ that is filling our lives, whether it comes from the media, advertising or the pharmaceutical industry.

Bad Science is split into two sections: the first focusses on how research is carried out and reported before walking through some notable cases of misleading science including an interesting review of the placebo effect and the smearing of the MMR vaccine all the way to a personal experiment with an ‘Aqua Detox’ and a Barbie doll.

The aim is to explain how not only media and marketing mislead us but also how pharmaceutical companies skew clinical findings. Full of facts and humour in equal measure, Bad Science will not only equip you with the skills to spot the questionable scientific claims filling the world but will also probably make you laugh along the way.

Kerry Dixon
Learning Technologist

 

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

If you are a fan of true crime or are in any way interested in the complexities of human behaviour, this is very much worth a read.

Ronson’s book begins with a mystery: someone has been sending peculiar packages to academics across the world containing a book crammed with cryptic messages. With the mystery seemingly unsolvable, Ronson is brought on board to help crack the case and his pursuit of the book’s origins leads him on a funny – but often troubling – journey that unravels what it means to be ‘mad’.

Underpinning most of the book is Ronson’s exploration of the Psychopathy Checklist; which he uses when interviewing a number of individuals who arguably exhibit psychopathic traits: from the head of a Haitian death squad to the CEO of an American manufacturing company. The most intriguing character for me is ‘Tony’, an offender who’s plan to ‘fake madness’ to get out of a prison sentence backfired when he found himself locked up in Broadmoor indefinitely. Interspersed amongst these stories are examples of Ronson’s own battles with anxiety, which offer welcome relief to some of the quite grisly content.

While the book is clearly well-researched, some aspects of the storytelling do feel unbalanced and over reliant on the more sensational case studies in the field. It’s also occasionally guilty of offering a superficial look at some aspects of psychopathy, so I’d advise casting a critical eye over any conclusions you draw from the material explored. Nevertheless, it is a fun and entertaining read and if it’s sparked your interest in the field (as it has for me), you may find yourself looking into more authoritative texts to satisfy your curiosity.

Beth Jackson
Liaison Support Librarian (Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)

EDIT:
(9th August 2018) One of our Twitter followers highlighted a response to Ronson’s book by Robert D. Hare, who’s work (and checklist) are featured heavily in the text. For balance, we’d certainly recommend reading his reflections on the book here. We’d like to share another thank you to the follower who brought it to our attention, it made for an entertaining read and echoed many of the concerns we couldn’t include in our word count!

26 June – Book swap and new book display

Book Swap

From Monday 26th June – Friday 7th July, we’re putting out a book swap trolley in the Library Foyer. All St George’s staff and student are welcome to pick a book to read for free (initial collection kindly donated by Library staff) and to drop off a book on the trolley for sharing with others.

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Our Summer  2016 book swap trolley.  Pick up a book, drop off a book!

Summer Remix – best of the book displays  2016-2017

Watch out for our new book display in the Library that will go out on Monday 26th June. We’re putting out the most popular books from the displays that we’ve run for this academic year, which includes a selection of fiction and non-fictional titles.

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