Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a dynamic, young professional living in New York and working at the New York Post, Cahalan seemed to be living a charmed life. That is until something within her seemed to break. Her personality began to change, her behavior became erratic, and she seemed to lose direction. As she began to look for answers as to why she was experiencing these symptoms, no one seemed to have an answer. Cahalan's fluid prose quickly draws you deeper into the mystery of what might be ailing her and her descent into declining health and her precarious mental state.

What is wrong with this woman?

The narrative takes you on her trek from a neurologist to a psychiatrist in her quest to determine if her illness is physical or mental until she ends up in the hospital.

This book astutely presents both the triumphs and failures of modern medicine. A realm where doctors are continually learning about the complexity of the human body and mind so as to treat people's illnesses, yet concurrently doctors refuse to fully listen to patients, rely on stereotyped assumptions to make diagnoses, and access to competent and reliable health care is limited to those with resources and strong social networks.

Calahan's book also forces us to reconsider the mind/body dichotomy, in particular when it comes to health and illness. What is often perceived as two separate realms are in fact intimately interrelated.

The beauty of the book is that it tells an engrossing story that features complex medical issues and addresses broad social questions in such an accessible manner.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Why Italy is such a mess...

Good Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the FutureGood Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the Future by Bill Emmott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good overview of the current political and economic situation in Italy by a journalist. Nothing too dense or detailed. I bit too business focused in parts. Ignores some important cultural issues.

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Friday, March 15, 2013


Jerusalem: The BiographyJerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating journey through the long history of Jerusalem - the city revered by so many religions and sects. Montefiore highlights the major events and individuals through the different historical eras. He also presents the broader historical, political, and social contexts that have influenced the fate of the city. Given the ambitious nature of this project, it is only natural that he is forced to cover issues, events, and descriptions of individuals in a cursory way. At times this leaves the reader thirsting for more detail. However, it also allows the author to keep the narrative moving forwards without getting bogged down in details or going off on tangents, which would be all to easy to do. As the book progresses, Montefiore reveals the brutal and bloody history that is so gruesome that at times it borders on the farcical. For example, there were several occasions the Jews lost control of the city and ended up being slaughtered because the enemy attacked on the Sabbath when the Jews would refuse to fight. In a different instance, an incompetent invader tried to behead a resident, ineptly hacking at a prisoners neck who complained, "Ow, you are hurting me!"

The few illustrations provide vivid visuals of the places and characters involved in the city's history. Montefiore also provides key genealogies of the major families that controlled the city that I often referred to.

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