THE INSANITY OF NORMALITY

REALISM AS SICKNESS TOWARD UNDERSTANDING HUMAN DISTRUCTIVENESS

A psychological treatise of some originality and depth that shoots itself in the foot through the absurdity of its applications. Gruen (The Betrayal of the Self, 1988), a German psychoanalyst practicing in Switzerland, sets out to overhaul the Freudian understanding of violence as an innate human drive. He maintains instead that destructiveness is the product of self-hatred, which invariably can be traced to childhood anger over the exercise of parental authority—or, more precisely, over parents' tacit demand that their authority be recognized as absolute. The immediate result is a confusion of identity, through which the child tries to take on parents' desires and expectations and deny its own. The underlying resentment that builds up, and that tries to tear down the ``false self'' that has been erected, is often interpreted as a form of self-destruction. Gruen maintains that it is in fact a form of self-assertion, one that can be thwarted only at great psychic cost. On a theoretical level, his case holds together, but it is hardly backed up by the examples that he offers, which amount to little more than a catalogue of left-wing paranoias. The origin of Gruen's thesis seems to be connected with the spectacle of German fascism—which forced the author and his family to flee Europe in the 1930's—but he never really tries to identify what social conditions in Germany at that time fostered psychological deformity on such a titanic scale. It also stretches credibility to have Richard Nixon held up as an exemplar of the same schizophrenia that produced the Nazis (``Every one of Nixon's actions throughout his political career was characterized by contempt for humanity''). A chapter on Peer Gynt puts Gruen on more reliable ground, letting him illustrate his points with less ideological distraction- -probably the most persuasive section of a generally unconvincing effort. A private and highly idiosyncratic meditation on the nature of evil, masquerading as clinical psychology.

Pub Date: July 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-8021-1169-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more