A valuable plea for honesty between medical professionals and their patients.




A surgeon argues passionately for doctors to notify cancer patients of their condition so they can make informed treatment decisions.

Papachristos (Differential Clinical Significance of Medical Information, 2016) has been the head of thoracic surgery at Greece’s 424 Military Hospital since 1999. He translated this book into English himself, with the assistance of editor George A. Rossetti. In his 32 years of clinical experience, he has developed a deep compassion for those with life-threatening conditions. But he notes that Mediterranean countries, including Greece, have had an unfortunate track record of withholding bad news from patients. In some situations, nondisclosure has even been “justified as a courtesy”: The author cites the example of England’s King George VI, who had no idea he had cancer when he underwent lung surgery in 1951. It is essential, the author argues, for patients to know the whole truth about their cancer so they can give informed consent for procedures. “We are duty-bound to disclose information we know to be true,” he insists. Practical chapters give useful, step-by-step advice on how to break bad news, even giving sample scripts for multiple sessions. In a first meeting, Papachristos suggests, cancer should not be mentioned, but body language cues can begin to prepare the patient. A second session will ready them psychologically; the third will feature “full frank disclosure” and an emphasis on what treatments are available. If time is short, two of the sessions can be combined. Later sections deftly discuss how to inform family and caregivers and decide on pain management. Most chapters open with vivid italicized case studies in which patients were kept in the dark; the author’s principles could have reduced heartache. The book is at times overwritten, with overabundant exclamation points and some moral simplification (for example, attributing the financial crisis in Greece to “poverty that generates nagging greed in the hearts of the wicked”). The writing is not wholly colloquial, with a tendency toward redundant or awkward phrasing and wordiness (“All too often, physicians hypocritically state publicly that they vehemently oppose disclosing cancer diagnoses to their patients out of a professed love and care for them, lest they cause them any distress”). But these minor infelicities of style can be overlooked because the contents are overall so helpful and down-to-earth.

A valuable plea for honesty between medical professionals and their patients.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-977834-74-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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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. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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