A sharp, eye-opening assessment of urgent architectural needs being fulfilled.

THE GREAT INDOORS

THE SURPRISING SCIENCE OF HOW BUILDINGS SHAPE OUR BEHAVIOR, HEALTH, AND HAPPINESS

How architects and scientists are fashioning remarkable environments from the inside out.

Science journalist Anthes follows up on her award-winning Frankenstein’s Cat, about animal biotechnology, with an exploration of how “good architecture” in our indoor environment “can help us lead healthier, happier, more productive lives; create more just, humane societies; and increase our odds of survival in a precarious world.” The author begins with the “burgeoning field of indoor ecology” and “invisible menagerie of organisms that inhabit our houses.” Among the useful lessons she imparts: Keep houses dry, clean shower heads, and avoid cleaning materials that contain added antimicrobials. Hospitals, writes Anthes, are providing more private rooms to reduce infections and adding windows with relaxing, outdoor landscapes and “circadian lighting” to speed up recovery time. Furthermore, better designed, patient-centered operating rooms are creating more efficient, safer space. Architects are embracing the “power of stairs” in housing structures to encourage exercise while “cutting-edge, eco-friendly schools” offer more open spaces to encourage student interaction. As the author shows, environmental changes to office spaces can increase productivity and provide workers with more personal empowerment. “ ‘Accessible design’ has given way to ‘universal design,’ ” with architects and engineers incorporating changes for the disabled, including “autism-friendly places.” Climate change has spurred the development of “amphibious architecture” and floating houses. Anthes inspects Iranian architect Nader Khalili’s amazing SuperAdobe “earthbag” houses, which can be built quickly for disaster-relief shelter, and she chronicles her travel to Norway, where she toured a maximum security prison that “is designed to look, and function, like a small village.” As she writes, “the goal isn’t to coddle the inmates but to nurture and rehabilitate them.” Though some readers may be overwhelmed by the amount of information presented, the majority of it is fascinating and well worth pondering.

A sharp, eye-opening assessment of urgent architectural needs being fulfilled.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-16663-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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