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

READ REVIEW

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

OPEN BOOK

The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more