An honest, moving memoir giving voice to those without one.

A distinguished doctor tells the story of his years working with HIV/AIDS patients in Botswana.

In 2002, Baxter (The Least of These My Brethren: A Doctor’s Story of Hope and Miracles on an Inner-City AIDS Ward, 1997) traveled to the African nation to manage a new program intended to help the many thousands of Botswanans infected with HIV/AIDS. Brimming with “naïve altruism” and certain that his experiences treating HIV/AIDS patients in New York had prepared him for the task, he was soon confronted by a crisis more massive than he had imagined. The author observed his patients from a distance, dutifully pronouncing their lives to be even more important “than those of people in the States.” But his interactions with his patients soon made him see the “arrogance” of his attitude. One of Baxter’s first patients was Comfort, a 10-year-old girl suffering from malnutrition and an undiagnosed case of HIV. His intervention helped Comfort regain some of her health, but Baxter could do nothing to stop her family from letting her die because they considered her “an albatross, a burden.” To the author’s enduring shame, he realized that his “grand gesture” had been more important to him than Comfort’s fate. As he learned how to navigate cultural differences and dispense with his own egotism, Baxter also witnessed the many problems inherent in the Botswanan medical system, including shortages in qualified staff and medicines. He returned to the U.S. in 2008 believing he had come to “a new awareness about…the suffering that all of us endure.” Instead, he found American patients to be demanding and the American medical system “dysfunctional beyond words.” A second sojourn in Botswana helped him finally come to terms not only with his attitude toward the American medical establishment, but also the deeper, more personal meaning of his time in Africa. Rich in memorable patient portraits, Baxter’s book is at once a meditation on lives saved and lost as well as a testament to the challenges inherent in humanitarian work.

An honest, moving memoir giving voice to those without one.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5107-3576-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018



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

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. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020


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

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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