Month: March 2016

Notes on the Art of Surgery
by Richard Selzer

This is so different from most other books I\’ve read. It\’s a surgeon waxing eloquent on the craft and skill of his occupation. He talks about disease in the most interesting way, describes opening the body and moving into its depths to find ailments and organs as if navigating a landscape. Speaks with passion, and respect for the wonders of the human body. It\’s not really a book of case studies, more a selection of snapshots that show how the surgeon felt about his work, reflections on the meaning of it, looking at how his patients responded to treatment. Or didn\’t- some of them died under his hands. It is surprisingly, baldly honest- describing in detail many things that are hard to face- an abortion, an amputation, an explorative surgery that goes wrong, the process of embalming or autopsy. I\’ve read a few books about medicine, hospital work, and the like, but never with things described the way they are here.

It\’s also an old book, and of course outdated in lots of things. Much of it admitting no understanding, no hope for cure, or putting forth mistaken ideas. I was surprised and kind of annoyed that he goes on and on in one chapter about how horrible alcohol is for the liver- and yet spends another chapter extolling his smoking habit. It\’s illustrated here and there with woodcuts, engravings and lithographs from the Yale Medical Library- they\’re not dated but give the work a feeling of more antiquity. I saw someone\’s comment online that this book is funny- but I guess you\’d have to be a surgeon yourself to see the humor in it. I found it really interesting. Funny? not so much. The last part of it digresses from the main subject matter. Some short writings describing his childhood, his father\’s practice. There\’s an essay on being carsick- something he suffered a lot from as a child- and another rather weird one about birdwatching (which he apparently was not very good at).

And yet for all its flaws, the book was a thing I wondered at. It made me see the inner workings of the body in such a different way. Its words are so vivid, so alive.

Rating: 3/5       219 pages, 1974

more opinions:
Peter Morton\’s Website

by Alan Paton

This is one of those books I picked up at a used sale one day just because I recognized the title as being famous. Then it sat on my shelf for at least eight years. I chose it to read this weekend and was surprised at how intent the story was and how quickly I moved through it.

It is told in two parts. In the first half, a Zulu parson leaves his small, rural village and travels to Johannesburg in search of several family members who have dispersed there. His sister, his son, his brother. The great sprawling city at first bewilders the elderly parson, but even more bewildering and painful is what he discovers of his lost family members- they have each fallen into disreputable ways of making a living. Dispirited, he tracks them down, learning of their troubles and attempting to bring them back home. Some cannot be found, or cannot be recovered, or simply don\’t wish return. It is with a very heavy heart he returns to his village with fragments of his family and a burden of shame for the crimes his son, in particular, has committed.

Yet on his search through dark corners of Johannesburg and its skirting slums, he met with great kindness and help from strangers. And now, come home again, the parson struggles to help his village. The land is depleted, crops are failing, young people deserting the area, children dying. He carries the shame of his family back with him, and worse yet, discovers that a white man who owns farmland near the village was personally wronged by his son\’s crime. It is with the deepest sorrow that he admits this relationship to his neighbor. It seems that everything is falling to pieces, when help for the village comes from an unexpected source. I did wish this part of the story was fleshed out more- it interested me to read about the efforts to change farming methods, the villagers\’ resistance to change and new ideas even when it was obvious the old ways were failing. And while I enjoyed the simple clarity and lyrical writing, was deeply touched by the depiction of forgiveness and compassion between the characters of this story, I was also baffled at moments when the parson expressed anger. Maybe I did not read between the lines enough, but sometimes his responses seemed out of character to me.

It is a very good book, one that is difficult to put down, or stop thinking about.

Rating: 4/5      316 pages, 1948

more opinions:
Worthwhile Books
A Good Stopping Point
Embejo Etc
Vulpes Libres

by David Carroll

Naturalist, author and artist David Carroll wrote this memoir telling how he became so passionate about turtles and where they led him. He caught his first turtle at eight years old, wading through creeks and ponds in scant woods near his home, and was enthralled by the reptiles from then on. At first he just spent his time looking for turtles, in later years he learned to identify them and began keeping records of his sightings. He also describes his training in art school, early directions his art took, and how it finally became focused on nature subjects. Became a teacher and often had to move his family, each time searching for a place to live where he could be near unspoiled wetlands, for finding turtles. It seems this became more and more difficult as the years went on. He describes going back to his childhood home and dismay at finding so much changed, the farm he finally settled on, and how he worked to secure and protect habitat for wildlife (especially turtles) around his property and in other areas as well.

While this book wasn\’t quite as captivating for me because it doesn\’t have the extent of in-depth, detailed nature writing I so loved in Swampwalker\’s Journal and Trout Reflections, it is still a good read. I appreciate learning how other people\’s lives become involved with wild places, and how an artist saw and portrayed nature. And of course, the turtles.

Rating: 3/5           181 pages, 2004

by Joseph Wallace

This book is about behind-the-scenes stuff at the American Museum of Natural History in NY. I though it would be just my thing – I love visiting natural history museums- but it wasn\’t quite. It does have a lot of background stories- how different departments were developed and shuffled over the years, how the vision of the museum changed and shifted with various patrons and directors, how things are managed. Lots of names in here- both famous and those which remained in obscurity but should be recognized for some amazing work they did contributing to the collections or their organization. What I enjoyed most were the mention of interesting specimens and their importance, or stories of collecting expeditions, but those were all so brief it just sent me online to look more stuff up, particularly for firsthand source material which might satisfy my curiosity more.

Some interesting stuff I was motivated to look up: ants that are blind and follow scent trails can get confused into marching in a circle until they die of exhaustion. Poison dart frogs born in captivity are not poisonous– scientists think that the frogs get toxins from their natural diet. Coral is used to grow new bones. There are lizard populations comprised entirely of females- and their offspring can bear young. And there was a curious dinosaur Mononykus olecranus which had oddly stunted forelimbs attached to strong muscles- scientists are not sure why.

Rating: 2/5       288 pages, 2000

by J.W. Fortescue

It is the life of a red deer on the Exmoor. Very similar in many ways to the original Bambi– the deer grows up, meets other animals around him -the pitiable birds, traveling salmon, shuffling badger, bloodthirsty weasel, wily fox and so on. Very soon he learns to fear and avoid hounds, where to find safety and how to confuse them off his track. The deer followed through the story acts like all his kind, admiring the older males and proud of his antlers when they finally grow in, chasing the females when it is his time, battling other stags, crossing the landscape endlessly to find shelter from the weather and safety from hunters or just companionship when he desires it. The description of forest, valleys and high bare moorland is pretty good, it kept me interested. While the animals talk and live in a strict arrangement of upper- and lower-classes, most of the writing is just about their way of life, not so much personality as I found in Felix Salten\’s work. I think the most interesting contrasts came up when the pheasant scorned an invasive chinese bird that populated the area, and when the red deer met fallow deer which lived in paddocks and were fed by man. It was also interesting to see how the deer took up with an older stag to learn some wisdom of the woods, and when he became old in his turn, acted just as haughty and selfish (often turning other deer out of their beds to make them run before the hounds and save his own skin). In the end he was run so hard by a pack that he fell exhausted into a river and drowned. The ending did not feel sad, though- the deer seemed to have lived a full life.

I found this book in an antique shop.

Rating: 3/5       144 pages, 1904

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

VIEW MY PERSONAL COLLECTION:

TRADE BOOKS WITH ME ON:

ARCHIVES: 

2021
January 2021 (14)February 2021 (13)March 2021 (14)April 2021 (7)May 2021 (10)June 2021 (4)
2020
January 2020 (14)February 2020 (6)March 2020 (10)April 2020 (1)May 2020 (10)June 2020 (15)July 2020 (13)August 2020 (26)September 2020 (10)October 2020 (9)November 2020 (16)December 2020 (22)
2019
January 2019 (12)February 2019 (9)March 2019 (5)April 2019 (10)May 2019 (9)June 2019 (6)July 2019 (18)August 2019 (13)September 2019 (13)October 2019 (7)November 2019 (5)December 2019 (18)
2018
January 2018 (17)February 2018 (18)March 2018 (9)April 2018 (9)May 2018 (6)June 2018 (21)July 2018 (12)August 2018 (7)September 2018 (13)October 2018 (15)November 2018 (10)December 2018 (13)
2017
January 2017 (19)February 2017 (12)March 2017 (7)April 2017 (4)May 2017 (5)June 2017 (8)July 2017 (13)August 2017 (17)September 2017 (12)October 2017 (15)November 2017 (14)December 2017 (11)
2016
January 2016 (5)February 2016 (14)March 2016 (5)April 2016 (6)May 2016 (14)June 2016 (12)July 2016 (11)August 2016 (11)September 2016 (11)October 2016 (9)November 2016 (1)December 2016 (3)
2015
January 2015 (9)February 2015 (9)March 2015 (11)April 2015 (10)May 2015 (10)June 2015 (2)July 2015 (12)August 2015 (13)September 2015 (16)October 2015 (13)November 2015 (10)December 2015 (14)
2014
January 2014 (14)February 2014 (11)March 2014 (5)April 2014 (15)May 2014 (12)June 2014 (17)July 2014 (22)August 2014 (19)September 2014 (10)October 2014 (19)November 2014 (14)December 2014 (14)
2013
January 2013 (25)February 2013 (28)March 2013 (18)April 2013 (21)May 2013 (12)June 2013 (7)July 2013 (13)August 2013 (25)September 2013 (24)October 2013 (17)November 2013 (18)December 2013 (20)
2012
January 2012 (21)February 2012 (19)March 2012 (9)April 2012 (23)May 2012 (31)June 2012 (21)July 2012 (19)August 2012 (16)September 2012 (4)October 2012 (2)November 2012 (7)December 2012 (19)
2011
January 2011 (26)February 2011 (22)March 2011 (18)April 2011 (11)May 2011 (6)June 2011 (7)July 2011 (10)August 2011 (9)September 2011 (14)October 2011 (13)November 2011 (15)December 2011 (22)
2010
January 2010 (27)February 2010 (19)March 2010 (20)April 2010 (24)May 2010 (22)June 2010 (24)July 2010 (31)August 2010 (17)September 2010 (18)October 2010 (11)November 2010 (13)December 2010 (19)
2009
January 2009 (23)February 2009 (26)March 2009 (32)April 2009 (22)May 2009 (18)June 2009 (26)July 2009 (34)August 2009 (31)September 2009 (30)October 2009 (23)November 2009 (26)December 2009 (18)
2008
January 2008 (35)February 2008 (26)March 2008 (33)April 2008 (15)May 2008 (29)June 2008 (29)July 2008 (29)August 2008 (34)September 2008 (29)October 2008 (27)November 2008 (27)December 2008 (24)
2007
August 2007 (12)September 2007 (28)October 2007 (27)November 2007 (28)December 2007 (14)
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
1999
1998
1997
1996
1995
1994
1993
1992
1991
1990
1989
1988
1987
1986
1985
1984
1983
1982
1981
1980
1979
1978
1977
1976
1975
1974
1973
1972
1971
1970
1969
1968
1967
1966
1965
1964
1963
1962
1961
1960
1959
1958
1957
1956
1955
1954
1953
1952
1951
1950