A fascinating discussion that addresses medical, moral and social issues and their implications for understanding...

ERASING DEATH

THE SCIENCE THAT IS REWRITING THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH

A pioneer in the field of critical-care medicine poses the profound question: “What does the recovery of consciousness after the complete cessation of heartbeat and brain function” tell us about the relationship between the mind and body in the process of dying?

With the assistance of Young (co-author, with Howie Mandel: Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me, 2009, etc.), Cornell Medical Center doctor Parnia (What Happens When We Die, 2005, etc.) explains that modern medicine now has the potential to bring people back to life after they have suffered cardiac arrest and ensure that they do not suffer brain damage as a result. Using the space program as a model, Parnia suggests the need for a global effort to ensure optimal standards of care available to everyone. He reviews the development of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and up-to-date treatments using mechanical compression devices, cooling body temperature to slow the process of cell decay and administering drugs to increase blood pressure. The problem is that most medical professionals are not technically trained on the most advanced practices, and hospitals are under financial pressure to limit CPR. Nonetheless, Parnia is optimistic that such innovations as direct intravenous infusion of oxygen molecules will cheapen costs. Since it is now possible to resuscitate people who would previously have been pronounced dead, the question then arises: When does death occur? Death is not an event, writes the author, but a process that is sometimes reversible. This idea leads him to question the implications of near-death or after-death experiences. While they do not in themselves substantiate any religious beliefs, there are too many documented cases to be ignored. People from diverse cultures who hold different religious beliefs, including atheism, describe many common features, such as seeing a bright light and a guiding figure, and out-of-body experiences.

A fascinating discussion that addresses medical, moral and social issues and their implications for understanding consciousness, self-awareness and the soul.

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-208060-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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