A valuable corrective text for our overmedicated nation.

OVERKILL

WHEN MODERN MEDICINE GOES TOO FAR

According to this expert skeptical account, there is less to many medical interventions than meets the eye.

Offit, a professor of pediatrics whose books include Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong (2017), begins each chapter with the history of a belief or treatment and why it became popular, and then he describes the research showing why it’s ineffective and sometimes positively harmful. Regardless, too often, these remedies remain popular. Antibiotic eye drops rarely cure pinkeye. Antioxidants and vitamin E can contribute to cancer. Giving testosterone to older men doesn’t improve their sex lives but doubles the risk of a heart attack. Sunscreen doesn’t prevent skin cancer. Readers may be shocked to read that many studies designed to measure the efficacy of mammograms in preventing breast cancer deaths find no benefit. Other studies disagree, and this is an area of fierce debate. Offit writes that mammograms may save lives, but the effect is not as dramatic as once thought. The prostate specific antigen test measures a blood chemical sometimes elevated in prostate cancer but sometimes elevated for other reasons. Many experts agree with the author that it does more harm than good. Some worthless treatments are blasts from the past. As a cure for the common cold, Vitamin C peaked in the 1970s with Nobel Prize–winning Linus Pauling’s research. Today, enthusiasts still consider it miraculous, but it’s no more so than other vitamins. That teething causes fever is a Victorian belief that has achieved new life with the internet; ditto the conviction that amalgam dental fillings contain poison and should be replaced. Medical organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians discourage most of the practices that Offit condemns. Physician inertia often hinders their work, but so does patient demand. Most readers know that doctors dispense too many unnecessary antibiotics, but research has shown that “no…factor was as strongly associated with patient satisfaction as receipt of a prescription for an antibiotic.”

A valuable corrective text for our overmedicated nation.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294749-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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