Essays that brim with knowledge and bubble with attitude.

THE FEVERS OF REASON

NEW AND SELECTED ESSAYS

A noted physician and essayist collects pieces dealing with subjects ranging from immigration to Einstein to Alice James.

As Weissmann (Medicine/New York Univ. School of Medicine; Epigenetics in the Age of Twitter: Pop Culture and Modern Science, 2012, etc.) states, one of his personal and professional heroes is Lewis Thomas, and Weissmann clearly possesses some of Thomas’ gifts. Most of these pieces appeared in FASEB Journal, where the author is book reviews editor, and we see throughout the book the extensive range of his interests. Literary figures dance through the pages—especially Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose science and literary efforts Weissmann admires (the former more than the latter). There are also allusions to Eliot, Proust, Sinclair Lewis, Sherlock Holmes—whose name, argues the author, came from Oliver Wendell—and Edgar Allan Poe. Weissmann also offers an amusing example from the Marx brothers’ film Horse Feathers (1932) in an essay that assails the emphasis on athletics in today’s universities. The author also has a number of foes he battles in these pages, including the current U.S. anti-immigration madness, the insistence among some that science is just a sort of a guess (the truth is in the Bible), and the rise of homeopathy and the emergence of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome as illnesses (he goes after this topic in a couple of essays). He praises Richard Dawkins and others who have been battling the forces of anti-science and -reason. There is no doubt where Weissmann’s sympathies lie; his heart is bare on virtually every page. But he also fills those pages with medical science and history, and the medical cognoscenti will enjoy these elements more than his Marx Brothers allusions. Weissmann also flashes some wit, even ending one essay with a groaner of a pun: “beauty is in the pie of the beholder.”

Essays that brim with knowledge and bubble with attitude.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-942658-32-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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