Odd, engrossing science history capably related.



A story about medicine, morals, religion, and human head transplants.

Schillace, editor-in-chief of the academic journal Medical Humanities, has a knack for writing about intriguing, offbeat topics, and her third book, she admits, is “perhaps the strangest story I have ever encountered.” The author tells the captivating tale of Robert J. White (1926-2010), a brilliant “doctor with two selves, two impulses, and even two names,” who was obsessed with transplanting organs. White, who referred to himself as “Humble Bob,” came from a middle-class, devout Catholic background, and he would serve as a bioethics adviser to Pope John Paul II. In medical school, he developed an interest in the brain’s physiology, writing that the organ is the “physical repository for the soul.” In the 1950s, inspired by a Russian physiologist’s grotesque creation of a living, two-headed dog, White began experimenting with hemispherectomies of dogs, keeping the brain alive using pioneering hypothermic cold. A new position in neurosurgery provided White with a platform for his research. Considering his work, the author ponders “what it would mean to be a brain, alive but bodiless.” With ease, she explains in detail White’s complex medical research and procedures, many of which would have substantial real-world applications. In 1963, White successfully removed a monkey’s brain and hooked it up to a “laboratory cyborg” of a donor monkey and a machine White had designed. Still, writes Schillace, “he needed to prove that consciousness could be transplanted.” A 1967 article about White’s surgeries by journalist Oriana Fallaci resulted in outrage from animal rights activists, a surge in brain death debates, and a nickname: Dr. Butcher. In 1970, White successfully completed a brain transplant, inserting one monkey’s brain into another monkey’s head; it lived for nine days. Swirling around inside this absorbing biography are Schillace’s thoughtful discussions of the knotty issues involved in medical and religious ethics. At times Frankenstein-esque, it’s unquestionably a “strange journey from science fiction to science fact.”

Odd, engrossing science history capably related.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982113-77-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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