In this poignant book, Donlan finds in curiosity, writing, and family the surest salves for the terror of chronic illness...

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THE INWARD EMPIRE

MAPPING THE WILDS OF MORTALITY AND FATHERHOOD

A journalist debuts with an intimate account of his multiple sclerosis diagnosis and his growing awareness of his roles as a young husband and a new father.

During the period covered here, Donlan, an American who lives in England, was writing about video games, and he escorts us around that world before his first symptoms appear. Then we travel with him on other journeys, medical and psychological. His chapters are mostly chronological, and following each is a more general section dealing with the history of the disease, descriptions of key patients, and evolving treatments. Donlan alternates between the changes in his own body and mind and those occurring in his young daughter, Leon. As his symptoms intensify—and as he moves from treatment to treatment (there are not a lot of options for him, we learn)—he also shows us the growth of Leon: standing, speaking, imagining, playing, and discovering the wonders of eyeglasses. In these clear, honest pages, the author displays an active curiosity about his illness and flexes some literary muscle, too. He memorized Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (the actual one is nearby) to entertain his mother, and he quotes from T.S. Eliot and Robert Louis Stevenson, whose Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde he finds especially relevant to his situation. (He mentions a Hyde-like flare at his daughter that brings both of them to tears.) Donlan’s wife emerges in these pages as little shy of a saint. She seems to know what to say (and what not to) and what to do (and not do). The author shows her as a wise, loving, compassionate companion. We also meet some of his medical team—and fellow patients—especially in a section near the end about his weeklong hospitalization for a series of infusions.

In this poignant book, Donlan finds in curiosity, writing, and family the surest salves for the terror of chronic illness and mortality.

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-50936-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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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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