A fresh approach to a familiar phenomenon.

WILD NIGHTS

HOW TAMING SLEEP CREATED OUR RESTLESS WORLD

A thorough probing into why sleep is such a problem for so many in contemporary society.

Reiss (English/Emory Univ.; Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture, 2008, etc.) takes both a long and surprisingly wide view of sleep, looking back over the centuries to examine literature, cultures, and social and medical history. The author’s main thesis is that we have too rigid a sense of what sleep should be: a private experience of eight solid hours in a dark, quiet, comfortable setting. “Only over the past few hundred years,” he writes, “did sleep come to be privatized, packaged into one standard time slot, and removed from nature’s great rhythmic cycles of temperature and light.” Human sleep patterns, he writes, are remarkably flexible, and there is no single correct and healthy way to sleep. Before the industrialized and electrified age, sleep often came in segments throughout the day and night, and in many cases, groups—entire families—slept together. The author devotes an entire chapter to Thoreau, who in Walden showed his preoccupation with sleeping and waking on one’s own schedule. Reiss also cites a wide variety of other writers, including B.F. Skinner, Benjamin Spock, Maurice Sendak, and Arianna Huffington. He even considers the videos of Andy Warhol and Kanye West, and he includes sleep researchers’ studies, anecdotes of troubled sleepers, and the unhappy stories of frazzled parents struggling to put their children to sleep. In addition, Reiss takes readers to diverse locations, from utopian communities, such as the Shakers, to insane asylums and the holds of slave ships. In the final chapter, the author tackles the question of where sleep is heading and finds no clear answer; some people will perhaps find flexibility, but others will remain controlled by unforgiving schedules.

A fresh approach to a familiar phenomenon.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-06195-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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