Despite occasional repetitions: a thoroughly compelling account, well told and well situated in its larger context.

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ETHER DAY

THE STRANGE TALE OF AMERICA’S GREATEST MEDICAL DISCOVERY AND THE HAUNTED MEN WHO MADE IT

American Heritage columnist Fenster examines the tangled tale of the invention of anesthesia.

Dava Sobel and Janet Gleeson have established a new model for authors working in the history of science—i.e., find some aspect of everyday life that we take for granted but whose invention involved a complicated story (preferably with something sinister attached to it), sprinkle with intelligent social history (to place it in a larger context), write well, and stir. Fenster has adhered to this formula nicely and the resulting work is, like those of her predecessors, a model of sound popular science. It begins with a simple question: Who was the father of painless surgery, as first practiced at Massachusetts General Hospital on October 16, 1846? The three claimants to the title are as dissimilar as any men of the era could possibly be. Horace Wells was a pious and earnest dentist who became interested in the possibilities of nitrous oxide as a way of rendering patients insensible; William T.G. Morton, who learned dentistry from Wells, was a semi-literate con man; and Charles Jackson was one of the most prominent men of science in Boston—an arrogant and rigid figure who claimed that Samuel Morse stole the idea of telegraphy from him. This trio became locked in a struggle to claim credit for the invention of anesthesia, a struggle that led all three to destruction. What each seems to have lost sight of is the importance of the advance itself; but Fenster is particularly good at reminding readers of the nightmare of surgery before anesthesia (she describes one operating room whose features included “hooks, rings and pulleys set into the wall to keep the patients in place during operations”). The cast of characters here is a rich one, including such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Samuel Colt, not to mention cameos by Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Henry David Thoreau. Fenster balances all the various elements of the tale admirably and writes with acerbic wit.

Despite occasional repetitions: a thoroughly compelling account, well told and well situated in its larger context.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019523-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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