THE MARRIAGE OF THE SUN AND MOON

DISPATCHES FROM THE FRONTIERS OF CONSCIOUSNESS

The 19 essays gathered in this collection were produced as newsletters while Weil was a Fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs. The fellowship allowed the Harvard-trained physician to travel in the U.S., Central, and South America, following his heart's desire: the pursuit of altered states of consciousness as a means of realizing the full potential of the human nervous system. The "marriage of the sun and moon" is, just one of many metaphors Weil chooses (based on his experiences of eclipse-watching) to express the transcendent feelings experienced when there is union between complementary states of mind (conscious/ unconscious; higher/lower). He emerges as a very open person, just the sort to try for a "high"—and be successful. Indeed, he makes a point of saying that altered states of consciousness are inherent in the nervous system and can be triggered by many sorts of events—dancing, drugs, the sweatbox, eclipse-watching, even vomiting—which cultists can learn to control. He also stresses that a lot depends on set and setting. (One man's hallucinogen is another man's poison.) Most of the essays deal with drugs; here, Weil emphasizes what he considers to be significant differences between the use of the natural plant (good) vs. the synthesized or purified extract (bad). Thus, in an essay on cocaine he sharply contrasts the merits of chewing cocoa leaves vs. snorting the crystalline powder. He also issues strong warnings on Datura (Jimsonweed in the U.S.), has cautionary advice on marijuana, and makes salient remarks about cultural relativism in relation to all drugs. A surprising inclusion is an essay on Uri Geller in which Weil is seen first as convinced believer—until he spends a day with the Amazing Randi. Still, he likes to believe there is Something There. . . . So, unabashed advocacy of transcendent union, with some sophisticated observations on drugs and cultures.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 1980

ISBN: 0618479058

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1980

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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