MAKING MIRACLES HAPPEN

What might have been simply another personal account of surviving cancer is in fact an empowering document for anyone with a life-threatening illness. Smith and Naifeh, who won a Pulitzer Prize for their biography of Jackson Pollock and together produce annual reference books on the top doctors and lawyers in the country, are bona fide experts at researching and writing. Here, Naifeh takes a back seat to Smith, who narrates this account. In 1986, aged 34, he was given three months to live by doctors at the Mayo Clinic, who told him his brain tumor was inoperable. Realizing that the statistical odds for his death still left a chance he might live, and needing to take control of his situation, Smith began a search that eventually led him to the right doctor and the right treatment. While describing that search, the authors show how the battle for control of one's life is often a struggle against both one's own feelings of denial and the intimidating, we-know-best attitude of many doctors. To illustrate that the battle can be won, they interviewed dozens of survivors of devastating accidents and illnesses—a parachutist who survived an 11,000-foot fall, a young woman who had the first double-lung transplant—as well as physicians and support group leaders around the country. Their stories, feelings, and insights give dimension to Smith's own experience. To show how the battle can be won, they offer advice on researching one's own disease, asking the right questions, developing an effective doctor-patient relationship. While they stress how essential it is to have the right attitude and how important the support of family or friends can be to winning the battle, they acknowledge that sometimes tough decisions have to be made about continuing the fight, and they argue that deciding where to draw that line is the patient's, not the doctor's, right. Persuasive evidence that ``miracles'' must be worked for—they don't just happen.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 1997

ISBN: 0-316-59788-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1997

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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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