A useful primer for policy wonks and medical practitioners.




Despite manifest shortcomings, the American health-care system has come a long way over the past 250 years.

Retired surgeon and public-health professional Rutkow (James A. Garfield, 2006, etc.) provides an anecdotal overview of the theory and practice of medicine in the United States from the colonial period to the present. “The evolution of American medicine has often closely mirrored the nation’s history,” he writes, from the early days when the “bleed, blister, puke, and purge” therapies were advocated by America’s leading doctor, Benjamin Rush, to the nation’s superpower status after World War II. By the mid-1800s, prevailing wisdom recommended avoiding doctors, but the invention of the stethoscope in 1816 by a Parisian physician was an important step toward modern diagnostics, especially when coupled by the French practice of measuring pulse rate. Infection remained the major cause of death during the Civil War and even in 1881—after the role of germs had been established—when President Garfield died from an infection in the aftermath of a gunshot wound. The passage of New York City’s Metropolitan Health Bill in 1866, which established an effective sanitation code controlling raw sewage and other harmful materials, was “a major triumph in the history of public health and American medicine,” allowing contagious diseases such as cholera and typhus to be brought under control. Major advances continued during WWII—the development of blood plasma storage, orthopedic procedures, operating techniques—and in the postwar period with open-heart surgery and organ transplants. Rutkow is optimistic about the future role of new biotechnologies (“cellular scanners, gene therapies, robotic surgeries, wireless monitoring”—but he recognizes the difficulty of navigating the tradeoffs between private service and public good.

A useful primer for policy wonks and medical practitioners.

Pub Date: April 13, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-3828-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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

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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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