entertaining, often scandalous portraits of doctors at work.




A collection of eight case studies revolving around questions of diagnosis and treatment, by Harvard physician and New Yorker writer Groopman (The Measure of Our Days, 1997).

Most doctors, if they write at all, write mainly about disease and cannot resist certain subjects. Groopman covers them all in eight chapters and a prologue, and they are cracking good stories. In the traditional when-I-got-sick essay, a patient’s insistence that physicians cure his slipped disk converts it to a permanent disability. A second story in this genre describes the nightmarish odyssey of Groopman, his wife, and their sick son as they search for a competent doctor over the course of a holiday weekend. The author encounters many tragedies along with a few triumphs. A woman dies of leukemia (misdiagnosed by her HMO) and, after failing to save her life, Groopman must defend himself against a frustrating malpractice suit. He discovers a rare but curable blood disease in a friend's father; unfortunately, local physicians have diagnosed it as a common, incurable condition. They resent his interference, and the patient declines to question their judgment. A young woman asks to be tested for the breast-cancer gene and discovers she has it. Can she prevent the inevitable by having her breasts removed? Groopman discusses the pros and cons, but the woman springs a surprise. Inevitably, literary doctors write of a personal encounter with aging: Groopman's grandfather descends into Alzheimer's, a sad tale of a beloved man growing repulsive and burdensome. Wisely, Groopman rarely addresses larger issues: he expresses admiration for the busy family physician, although those in his book are mostly blunderers; he denounces HMOs that deal with skyrocketing costs by cutting benefits, but he offers no alternative plan of action. His focus is more specific than general. Not profound literature, yet undeniably fascinating: Groopman has a good ear and a dramatic flair, and he delivers

entertaining, often scandalous portraits of doctors at work.

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-670-88801-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2000

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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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