A sober, informative disquisition on the sundry forms that humanity can assume and endure. (85 b&w photos)

THE TWO-HEADED BOY

AND OTHER MEDICAL MARVELS

In a companion volume to his A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities (1997), physician Bondeson explores “the history of teratology, the science of monstrous births.”

Comprised of a dozen essays related by theme and structure, Bondeson’s study ranges far in search of the bizarre and even miraculous varieties of human appearance. He begins with a hirsute woman in 17th-century Germany who performed on the harpsichord and ends with nauseating accounts of gluttons, one of whom consumed “live sparrows, crawfish, mice, adders, and eels.” The author follows a similar pattern in each tale: he first presents the historical record (often quoting from extremely rare pamphlets and other documents residing in libraries and museum archives—or in his own abundant collections), identifies similar cases in the public record, then either provides the current medical explanation of the phenomenon or declares the story fraudulent (e.g., the accounts of egg-laying women in the 17th century). Sometimes he reveals how his subjects have been portrayed in the arts. Thus, for example, we learn that Daniel Lambert (1770–1809), the most corpulent man of his age (he weighed nearly 800 pounds), was so well known that writers like Thackeray, Dickens, and Melville alluded to him. Bondeson presents some astonishing facts. There can, indeed, be a “stone” child—the “calcified remains of an extrauterine pregnancy.” And some people do have horns (“concentric layers of keratinized epithelial cells”), caused by various skin diseases. And the conjoined Tocci brothers from Italy had two heads, two necks, four perfect arms—but only one lower body and one pair of legs; they toured Europe in the late 19th century and earned enough to retire. Nicholas Ferry, the famed dwarf, once emerged from a pastry shell during a fancy dinner to alarm the guests. Bondeson strives mightily—and successfully—to treat his subjects seriously and compassionately, thereby assuring a dignity that most never enjoyed in their lifetimes.

A sober, informative disquisition on the sundry forms that humanity can assume and endure. (85 b&w photos)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8014-3767-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Cornell Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Honest messages from one of America's best known women.

WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE

A compilation of advice from the Queen of All Media.

After writing a column for 14 years titled “What I Know For Sure” for O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Winfrey brings together the highlights into one gift-ready collection. Grouped into themes like Joy, Resilience, Connection, Gratitude, Possibility, Awe, Clarity and Power, each short essay is the distilled thought of a woman who has taken the time to contemplate her life’s journey thus far. Whether she is discussing traveling across the country with her good friend, Gayle, the life she shares with her dogs or building a fire in the fireplace, Winfrey takes each moment and finds the good in it, takes pride in having lived it and embraces the message she’s received from that particular time. Through her actions and her words, she shows readers how she's turned potentially negative moments into life-enhancing experiences, how she's found bliss in simple pleasures like a perfectly ripe peach, and how she's overcome social anxiety to become part of a bigger community. She discusses the yo-yo dieting, exercise and calorie counting she endured for almost two decades as she tried to modify her physical body into something it was not meant to be, and how one day she decided she needed to be grateful for each and every body part: "This is the body you've been given—love what you've got." Since all of the sections are brief and many of the essays are only a couple paragraphs long—and many members of the target audience will have already read them in the magazine—they are best digested in short segments in order to absorb Winfrey's positive and joyful but repetitive message. The book also features a new introduction by the author.

Honest messages from one of America's best known women.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1250054050

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Flatiron View Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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