Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview A Matter of Interpretation by Elizabeth Mac Donald (@bizzieauthor) #Matterofinterpretation A fictionalised biography of a fascinating historical character searching for knowledge against all odds

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book that I found very compelling, although I don’t think it will be a crowd-pleaser.

A Matter of Interpretation by Elizabeth MacDonald
A Matter of Interpretation by Elizabeth MacDonald

A Matter of Interpretation by Elizabeth Mac Donald

The Kingdom of Sicily, early thirteenth century. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II has, through invasion and marriage, expanded his empire, but always subject to the will of the pope and the rulings of the Church. Into this world of political and military intrigue steps Michael Scot, a young monk and barbarian from Scotland who tutored Frederick as a boy. Headstrong and determined, Michael Scot persuades the Emperor that translating the lost works of Aristotle would bring him a secret knowledge of science, medicine and astronomy that would advance his cause. Despite the pope declaring such translations heretical, the Emperor agrees that the Scot should proceed, sending him first to the famous translation schools of Toledo and from there to the Moorish library of Cordoba.

https://www.amazon.com/Matter-Interpretation-Elizabeth-Mac-Donald-ebook/dp/B07X5WW9GB/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Matter-Interpretation-Elizabeth-Mac-Donald-ebook/dp/B07X5WW9GB/

https://www.amazon.es/Matter-Interpretation-Elizabeth-Mac-Donald-ebook/dp/B07X5WW9GB/

Author Elizabeth MacDonald
Author Elizabeth MacDonald

About the author:

Born in Dublin, lives in Pisa. Writer, translator. Forthcoming novel ‘A Matter of Interpretation’ (Fairlight Books 2019). Teaches at the University of Pisa

https://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/elizabeth-macdonald-a-matter-of-interpretation-1208923.html

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Fairlight Books for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a case of a historical figure whose life is so gripping and fascinating that we would find it difficult to believe in if he was a fictional character. Although I must confess to not having previous knowledge of Michael Scot, the setting of the story in the XIII century, the variety of locations, and the endeavours of Scot attracted me to the book, and I’m happy that was the case.

Although the story is seemingly simple (a monk, particularly gifted for academia, pursues his objective of getting to the source of knowledge wherever it might be and in whichever language, in XIII century Europe, travelling, translating, accumulating knowledge, and having to fight against conspiracy and orthodoxy), there are many different strands woven into it, and reflecting the complex push-and-pull of the politics of an era in which religion and faith wars played a huge part in the struggle for power and combining that with Scot’s quest for knowledge is a mighty task. In my opinion, MacDonald does a great job, but I am not sure everybody will appreciate the way the story is told, and it is not one for people looking for a plot that moves along quickly and is full of adventures. There are journeys and adventures, but some of the most interesting parts of the book come from philosophical discussions and disquisitions as to the nature of truth and knowledge.

The book is written in the third person, from an omniscient narrator’s point of view, and even though we read the story from what appears to be Scot’s perspective most of the time, this is not always the case, and even when we are following his adventures and are privy to his thoughts, we might learn about the way he appears to others and get comments and observations from others around him as well. There is also some first-person narrative, a “Confession” Scot is writing, interspersed with the rest of the novel, which, for me, was the part that made Scot appear more sympathetic and human (at points he is so obsessed with his studies and his project, that he seems unaware of the human beings around him, and he made me think of Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, although he seems to also have his “humanities”). The story starts close to what we later find out (and most readers might already suspect) will be the end, with an event that hints at a mystery, and then most of the rest of the story is told in something akin to a flashback, offering readers a chronological account of Scot’s lifestory.  Although this did not bother me, I suspect readers approaching the story with the expectation of a standard mystery (and no, this is not The Name of the Rose either) might be disappointed. Yes, there is a mystery, or several, but the book is not about that. It is about Scot and his time, and how his figure was more important and his pursuit worthier than he and his contemporaries realised. I’d recommend possible readers to check a sample of the novel to see if they feel the writing style would suit them.

Scot’s life has all the elements that would mark him as a heroic figure (and as I said, one that we’d struggle to believe possible if he were fictional). He has a traumatic childhood, with the loss of his mother (who was a healer and suffered because of it); he proves himself a great scholar despite his humble beginnings, and although he faces opposition from the start, he also gets some help and assistance, manages to become Frederick’s (later to become Holy Emperor Frederick the II) tutor, and with his patronage, he sets off to find and translate Aristotle’s old texts. His journey towards knowledge makes him face dangers, come into contact with other countries and cultures (in Toledo and Cordoba he studies closely Arabic texts and his main collaborators are Jewish scholars), and be faced with the strict opposition of the Church, which at the time saw much knowledge (other than approved Theology) as a likely source of heresy and inherently dangerous.

As I read the book, I felt as if I was immersed in the different countries, smelling the spices, contemplating the landscapes, touching paper for the first time (an amazing discovery for Scot), and was captivated by Scot’s goal. As a person who regularly does translations, I appreciate how hard his self-imposed task was and enjoyed learning a bit more about the process and the difficulties he faced. If I missed something, though, was hearing a bit more about the texts themselves. Perhaps that is only me, and many people would think there is enough detail, but I felt many of the discussions about Aristotle and about the work of some of his other interpreters and commenters was very vague and general —either assuming that all readers would already know, or that they would not be interested— especially when compared to more detailed accounts of Scot’s use of astrology and his dreams/visions. At some point in the novel Scot makes peace with his interest in Medicine (something he had tried to avoid due to his mother’s fate), but although he manages to avoid the worst of the church’s ban on Aristotle’s works and on translations by studying Arabic texts on Medicine, I missed a more detailed account of his work on that subject. (I studied Medicine, so perhaps this accounts for my interest more than any gaps in the novel itself).

There are many characters, as is to be expected in a novel covering so much ground and where many of events are of great historical importance. We have several popes, bishops, abbots, we have the crusades, we have kings, scholars, politicians… It is not always easy to keep straight who is who (especially if you don’t know much about the era), and I wonder if the final version will contain some charts or even a timeline to clarify matters for readers who are not experts on the topic. The political intrigue, corruption, battles, and jostling for power and influence make it as gripping a read as modern political thrillers can be.

I have mentioned the distance imposed by the point of view of the narration. I must also confess to feeling more intellectually interested in Scot than connected with him at an emotional level. Only towards the end of the story he seems to come to reflect and appreciate the importance of engaging with people and the help others have given him through the years, but there is little in the way of connection to other human beings, and that perhaps is where he fails (for me) in the role of hero. His weaknesses seem to come only from his illness and, perhaps, from his single dedication to knowledge, that results in others less qualified getting into important positions likely to influence events more than he can. (There are warnings about the risks he faces from early on, but he dismisses them and only comes to realise they were right later in his life). Women also play very little part in the story (apart from mentions of his mother —the most significant— and the wives of some of the characters, only in passing), and other than a comment about their role according to a philosopher, towards the end, this is not a book about them, and we learn close to nothing about their lives.

We know what the end will be from the beginning, but most people will enjoy seeing Scot get some redress (even if it is a case of too little, too late). The author’s note at the end of the book explains her interest and reasons for writing the book, and also her sources, which I am sure, will be useful to many readers who will want to explore the topic in more detail.

Overall, this is a book I’ve enjoyed, and I recommend it to people interested in XIII century European history, especially in the struggles for power and knowledge, the interaction between the different religions, and the influence of the various centres of learning. It is sobering to realise that attitudes have changed so little in some scores, and how even the seemingly most enlightened civilisations are (and have been) afraid of intellectual enquiry, knowledge, and research, as if, indeed, they believed it to be a poisoned apple. Attempts at keeping the population under control by limiting their access to knowledge (or by manipulating the information they are given access to) are not new and, unfortunately, never seem to go out of fashion. Not a light read, but one sure to make readers want to learn more about the period and the man.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author, for this thought-provoking book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview HUMAN ERRORS: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents (@nathanlents) Facts, anecdotes, some opinions, and a very engaging way of learning about the human body

Hi all:

I really enjoyed this book and found it very informative, but, believe it or not, I later realised that it was quite controversial. So, here it goes…

Book review Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents
Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents

We like to think of ourselves as highly evolved creatures. But if we are evolution’s greatest creation, why are we so badly designed? We have retinas that face backward, the stump of a tail, and way too many bones in our wrists. We must find vitamins and nutrients in our diets that other animals simply make for themselves. Millions of us can’t reproduce successfully without help from modern science. We have nerves that take bizarre paths, muscles that attach to nothing, and lymph nodes that do more harm than good. And that’s just the beginning of the story.

As biologist Nathan H. Lents explains, our evolutionary history is a litany of mistakes, each more entertaining and enlightening than the last. As we will discover, by exploring human shortcomings, we can peer into our past, because each of our flaws tells a story about our species’ evolutionary history.

A rollicking, deeply informative tour of our four-billion-year-long evolutionary saga, Human Errors both celebrates our imperfections – for our mutations are, in their own way, a testament to our species’ greatness – and offers an unconventional accounting of the cost of our success.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Human-Errors-Panorama-Glitches-Pointless-ebook/dp/B0776X5GQF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Human-Errors-Panorama-Glitches-Pointless-ebook/dp/B0776X5GQF/

Editorial Reviews

Review

Anyone who has aged without perfect grace can attest to the laundry list of imperfections so thoroughly and engagingly considered in Human Errors. This is the best book I’ve read on how poorly designed our bodies are. I learned something new on every page — MICHAEL SHERMER, author of Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain An insightful and entertaining romp through the myriad ways in which the human body falls short of an engineering ideal – and the often surprising reasons why — IAN TATTERSALL, author of Masters of the Planet In Human Errors, Nathan Lents explores our biological imperfections with style, wit, and life-affirming insight. You’ll finish it with a new appreciation for those human failings that, in so many surprising ways, helped shape our remarkable species — DEBORAH BLUM, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

Author Nathan H. Lents
Author Nathan H. Lents

About the Author

Nathan H. Lents is a professor of biology at John Jay College at The City University of New York. He is the author of Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals. www.nathanlents.com @nathanlents

https://thehumanevolutionblog.com/

@nathanlents

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

When I saw this book on offer, I could not resist. I studied Medicine and have been fascinated by Biology and the Natural Sciences for ages. I have also thought and often commented on our (mostly mine, but yes, most of the issues are general, not exclusive to me) flawed design, no matter how superior we feel to the rest of the species that share the planet with us. In a later chapter of the book, the author sums it up observing that if we participated in an Olympic Games-style contest that included all of the Earth’s species, we would not win at anything, apart from perhaps decathlon (or chess if it was included), as we are generalists. We might not be able to compete with the physical prowess shown by many other species (we are not the fastest, the strongest, the best hunters, the ones who jump higher or who can run for longer), but we can do many things to a reasonable level. And yes, we are pretty intelligent (however we choose to use our minds).

There is enough material to fill several books under the general title of this book, and Lents chooses pretty interesting ones (although I guess some will appeal to some readers more than others). He talks about pointless bones and anatomical errors, our diet (here he talks about our tendency to obesity and our need to eat a varied diet due to the fact that our bodies have lost the ability to synthesise a number of vitamins, amino acids… while other species do),junk in the genome (issues to do with our DNA), homo sterilis (we are not very good at reproducing as a species), why God invented doctors (about our immune system and autoimmune diseases, cancer…), a species of suckers (about cognitive biases. The title of the chapter refers to P.T. Barnum’s edict ‘a sucker born every minute’ although as the author notes, this is an underestimate), and he discusses the possible future of humanity in the epilogue. There is a fair amount of information contained in this book, and that includes some useful illustrations, and notes at the end (I read an ARC copy, but it is possible that the final version contains even more documentation and resources). It is an educational read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I listened to the book thanks to the text-to-speech facility, and it suits it well, as it has a very conversational tone and manages to impart lots of information without being overbearing or obscure.  I read some reviews suggesting that it was so packed with facts that it was better to read it in small bites. Personally, I read it in a few days and never got bored of it, but it might depend on the reader’s interest in the subject.

I was familiar with some of the content but I appreciated the author’s take and the way he organised the materials. Although I enjoyed the whole book, I was particularly interested in the chapters on genetics (the DNA analysis and the identification of specific genes have moved on remarkably since I completed my degree) and on cognitive biases. As a doctor, I also agreed with his comments about autoimmune diseases, the difficulties in their diagnosis, and how these illnesses can sometimes be confused with psychiatric illnesses (being a psychiatrist, I know only too well this can happen). Of course, as is to be expected from the topic, the book reflects on the development of the species and discusses natural selection and evolution, and I was fascinated by the reviews of people who took his arguments as personal attacks on their beliefs. I agree that some of his interpretations and his hypothesis of the reasons for some of these flaws can be debatable, but that does not apply to the facts, and I did not feel the book is intended as a provocation but as a source of information, and entertainment. As the writer notes, we remember better (and believe in) anecdotes and stories than we do dry data. (I am not an expert on the subject but was fascinated by the comments on his blog.)

I found the book fascinating, and as a writer, I thought it was full of information useful to people thinking of writing in a variety of genres, from science-fiction (thoughts about how other species might evolve crossed my mind as I read it), historical fiction (if we go back many years), and any books with a focus on human beings and science.  I would recommend checking a sample of the book to see if the writer’s style suits the reader. I highlighted many lines (and was surprised when I learned that female Bluefin tunas don’t reach sexual maturity until they are twenty years old and was pleased to learn about the important roll old female orcas play in their society) but I particularly like this one:

Scurvy is a dystopian novel written by the human body.

A great read for those who prefer non-fiction and fact-packed books, perfect for people with little time, as it can be picked up and savoured in bite-size instalments, and a book that might pique our interest in and lead to further research on some of the topics. Experts are unlikely to find new information here, but other readers will come out enlightened and with plenty to think about. I strongly recommend it.

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW, and smile!

[amazon_link asins=’0231178336′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’cd25d008-6a82-11e8-ad11-25d26bb226c2′]

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. A singular and professional look at death

Hi all:

This is another one of the reviews I posted in Lit World Interviews that I never shared here. This book has become pretty well-known but I thought it deserved to feature here in case you hadn’t heard of it.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

REVIEWS FOR LITERARY WORLD REVIEWS

Title:   When Breath Becomes Air
Author:   Paul Kalanithi
ISBN13:  978-0812988406
ASIN:  B0165X8WN2
Published:  Vintage Digital
Pages:  258
Genre:  Non-fiction, Medical Books: neurosurgery, Ailments and diseases: cancer

Description:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: ‘It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.’ And just important enough to be unmissable.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”The Washington Post

“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”The Boston Globe

“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”USA Today

“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”Entertainment Weekly

“[When Breath Becomes Air] split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed

Body of review: As this is a non-fiction book the usual format does not work well but I thought it was well-worth sharing.

Here it is:

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi A singular and professional look at death

Thanks to Net Galley and to Vintage Digital for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I read this book with conflicting emotions. When it came to my attention and saw some of the comments I wondered if I was ready to read it. (My father died 14 months ago of cancer, in his case prostate, with bone metastases, stage IV at the time of diagnosis, after a year of fighting the illness.) In some ways I guess I was challenging myself to see if I’d manage and perhaps hoping that it would give me some answers, although I’m not sure what to. I will try to make this review as objective as possible, but by the nature of the book and its subject this is more difficult than usual (no two people read the same book and that’s the beauty of it, of course).

In my effort to try and make my mind up as to what to say I’ve read a few of the reviews. Some of the negative ones state that the book is little more than a couple of essays, a foreword and an epilogue. That’s a fair comment. We know that Paul Kalanithi died before he finished the book, and we don’t know how much editing went into it, or what else he might have written if his life hadn’t been cut short. The foreword works as an introduction of the book and a sum up of the author’s career and perhaps helps tie up the unfinished nature of it. It is nicely written, although the fact that Abraham Verghese had only met the writer once hints at how professionally packaged the book is. Yes, this is not just another account by a totally anonymous individual fighting cancer.

Other reviewers note that Kalanithi’s circumstances are so unique (well-educated, professional family, bright and driven, studying at the best universities, training in neurosurgery at one of the best hospitals, and also treated in one of the best units with access to all the treatments, surrounded and supported by his family) that perhaps his reflections and his experiences are not applicable to most of the population. I can’t argue with that. I’m not sure we can claim to a universality of experience and say that death or impending death affects everybody the same. There’s no doubt that the end result is the same but the process and the way it is felt is quite different.  All lives start and end the same but that does not mean they are the same.

Some reviewers take issue with the decisions the author and his family made, for instance his insistence on going back to work as a neurosurgeon after the diagnosis and whilst he was being treated, wondering how safe that was, and accusing him of selfishness. Sometimes in harrowing circumstances we do what we have to do to keep going and to see another day, although that is no justification to put others at risk. In his case it is clear from the write up that there was a strong plan in place to ensure safety and that he was no operating by himself (we’re talking about neurosurgery, a highly complex field and a team endeavour). Perhaps the way the author focuses on his own efforts and how he managed to overcome the symptoms of the illness to keep working leaves too much of what was going on around him in the shadows, but then, he was writing about his experience and how he saw it at the time. Other readers appear upset at the family’s decision to have a child knowing he wouldn’t be alive to see her grow. That’s a matter of personal opinion and I can’t see how that has any bearing on our thoughts about the quality of the book.

After this long preamble (my review is becoming an essay in its own right), what did I think? I am a doctor (a psychiatrist, and although I remember with fondness my placement in general surgery and I attended in some operations for other specialties, like paediatrics, breast or chest, I can’t claim to any hands-on experience in neuro-surgery) and I identified with early parts of the book when Kalanithi describes medical school, and also his love of literature. I haven’t worked in the US although I’ve read (and we’ve all watched movies and TV series) about the gruelling schedules and training process medical students and trainees face there. There is a great deal of emphasis on his career and not much on his other experiences. Although there are more details about his relationship with his wife later on, we don’t know much about how they met or what they shared, other than their interest in Medicine and plans for their professional future. Some reviewers noted that we don’t get to know the man. I can imagine that to get to the professional peak he had achieved one needs to be focused on one’s career to the detriment of other things, and there are some reflections about that in the book: about delayed gratification, about working hard and putting other parts of our life on hold, for whenever we’ve reached that next goal, that next step. Often that moment never arrives, because we find other goals or other objectives. Living the now and for it is a lesson that not many people learn. I also felt I did not get to know Kalanithi well. He writes compellingly about his work, his efforts to find meaning and to offer meaning to others through his vocation, he mentions religion and how he turned to literature too to try and understand death. There are glimpses of him, mostly towards the end of the book, and truly heart-wrenching moments, like the birth of his daughter. I agree with everybody that his wife’s epilogue is more touching and heart-felt, less analytical and rationalised than the parts he wrote and I felt more connection to her than to her husband. I wish her and her daughter well and I have the feeling she is more than equal to the task of bringing up her girl and carrying on with her career.

This is an interesting book, a book that will make the reader think about his or her own mortality, and it will touch many. It does have a fair amount of medical terminology (I’m a doctor so it’s not easy for me to judge how complex it might be for somebody with no medical knowledge, although I saw some comments about it) and it’s not a touchy-feely open-my-heart type of confession about the final days of somebody. It’s a fairly intellectualised look at matters of life and death, but it ultimately provides no answers. Why that should be a surprise to anybody, I’m not sure. It is not a book on spirituality (although there are some reflections about it) or a moral guide to live your death. If bearing all that in mind you’re still interested, I found it well-worth a read.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Hardcover:  $14.88 (http://www.amazon.com/When-Breath-Becomes-Paul-Kalanithi/dp/081298840X/)
Kindle: $14.14 (http://www.amazon.com/When-Breath-Becomes-Paul-Kalanithi-ebook/dp/B0165X8WN2/)

Audiobook: $23.88 (http://www.amazon.com/When-Breath-Becomes-Air/dp/B01CQ0CFQS/)

Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

http://www.OlgaNM.com

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity by Dr. Ronald Epstein M.D. A must read for doctors, care professionals and health and social care institutions. And anybody else #mindfulness #caringprofessions

Hi all:

This review is particularly pertinent to me (or at least to the me who was working as a psychiatrist) but I hope many of you might find useful things in it. A wonderful book.

Attending. Medicine, Mindfulness and Humanity by Ronald Epstein, M.D.
Attending. Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity by Ronald Epstein, M.D.

Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity by Dr. Ronald Epstein M.D.

The first book for the general public about mindfulness and medical practice, a groundbreaking, intimate exploration of how doctors think and what matters most—safe, effective, patient-centered, compassionate care—from the foremost expert in the field.

As a third-year Harvard Medical School student doing a clinical rotation in surgery, Ronald Epstein watched an error unfold: an experienced surgeon failed to notice his patient’s kidney turning an ominous shade of blue. In that same rotation, Epstein was awestruck by another surgeon’s ability to avert an impending disaster, slowing down from autopilot to intentionality. The difference between these two doctors left a lasting impression on Epstein and set the stage for his life’s work—to identify the qualities and habits that distinguish masterful doctors from those who are merely competent. The secret, he learned, was mindfulness.

In Attending, his first book, Dr. Epstein builds on his world-renowned, innovative programs in mindful practice and uses gripping and deeply human clinical stories to give patients a language to describe what they value most in health care and to outline a road map for doctors and other health care professionals to refocus their approach to medicine. Drawing on his clinical experiences and current research, and exploring four foundations of mindfulness—Attention, Curiosity, Beginner’s Mind, and Presence—Dr. Epstein introduces a revolutionary concept: by looking inward, health care practitioners can grow their capacity to provide high-quality care and the resilience to be there when their patients need them.

The commodification of health care has shifted doctors’ focus away from the healing of patients to the bottom line. Clinician burnout is at an all-time high. Attending is the antidote. With compassion and intelligence, Epstein offers a crucial, timely book that shows us how we can restore humanity to medicine, guides us toward a better overall quality of care, and reminds us of what matters most.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“This book is phenomenal, and will be phenomenally useful to physicians and to all of us who are desperately in need of true health care and caring. It is hard for me to imagine a doctor reading it and not immediately recognizing, taking to heart, and implementing its messages in any number of different ways, being so commonsensical, clear, innately transformative, and healing. And it is equally hard for me to imagine that it will not energize all of us, when we find ourselves in the role of ‘the patient,’ to demand greater mindfulness from our care-givers across the board, and know what we mean by that.”—Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living and Mindfulness for Beginners 

“As a student admissions committee member reviewing Ron Epstein’s application to medical school, I knew he was special, a view surpassed by his visionary achievements illuminating the important nature of how physicians care for their patients, and how they can best care for themselves. Attending is the book every medical caregiver needs to strengthen their minds and harness their resilience to care for others—and every patient needs to understand how doctors think. This is a work of heart and head, a beautiful synthesis of inner wisdom and hard earned scientific empirical findings that point the way to proven methods for improving the lives of both giver and receiver of medical care.  With clear explanations, captivating stories, and well-described challenges and approaches to their solutions, this book is exactly what the field of medicine needs.”—Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., author of Mind and The Mindful Brain and Executive Director, Mindsight Institute Founding Co-Director, UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center 

“I recommend Attending for anyone interested in health. In a most accessible way, Epstein makes a very convincing case for how doctors and patients would prosper from doctors becoming more mindful.”—Ellen Langer, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of Mindfulness and Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility

“This powerful and inspiring book opens the pathway to bringing care, wisdom, and mindfulness into practice of medicine. A must-read for all clinicians and for lay readers as well.”–Joan Halifax, PhD, author of Being With Dying

“Ronald Epstein cuts through the cacophony and illuminates the heart of the medical enterprise—the attentive and compassionate connection between doctor and patient. In a world awash with medical error, patient dissatisfaction, and burned-out doctors, this attention to mindfulness is much needed balm.  Attending is at once penetrating, counterintuitive, and profoundly humbling.”–Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear

Attending got my attention from the opening paragraphs. Beautiful, compelling, and wise stories of how medicine and care-taking can be, (should be) when approached with common sense, a fierce sense of what is best for both the doctor and patient, and a compassionate heart.  A timely and important book!”–Marc Lesser, CEO of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) and author of Know Yourself, Forget Yourself and LESS: Accomplishing More By Doing Less

“Ronald Epstein truthfully and powerfully describes the challenging and changing worlds of both the physician and and the patient.  Attending will encourage the recognition that mindfulness and compassion training contribute to effective medicine. The book clearly demonstrates how these contemplative practices can help enrich the lives of everyone involved in health care.”–Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness

“Epstein presents for general readers a concise guide to his view of what mindfulness is, its value, and how it is a skill that anyone can work to acquire.”–Library Journal

“A deeply informed and compassionate book…[Dr. Epstein] tells us that it is a ‘moral imperative’ to do right by our patients. And he shows why and how.”--Lloyd Sederer, New York Journal of Books

“Vivid… Epstein’s candor and courage…that makes the book so compelling.”–Pharos

“Among the best books about how to teach the humanistic aspects of doctoring. Epstein weaves together an insightful collection of experiences that examine the clinician’s situation starting from inside her own mind and ending at the system in which she practices.”–Gold Foundation

“Thoughtful company in times when we’ve never needed thoughtful company more.”–Harvard Medicine

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Attending-Medicine-Mindfulness-Ronald-Epstein-ebook/dp/B01CO4B5AI/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Attending-Medicine-Mindfulness-Ronald-Epstein-ebook/dp/B01CO4B5AI/

Author, Ronald Epstein M. D.

About the Author

Dr. Ronald Epstein is a practicing family physician, is a professor of family medicine, psychiatry, and oncology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, where he directs the Center for Communication and Disparities Research and codirects Mindful Practice programs. He is an internationally recognized educator, writer, and researcher whose landmark article, “Mindful Practice,” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999, has revolutionized physicians’ view of their work. Dr. Epstein has been named one of America’s Best Doctors every year since 1998 by U.S. News & World Report. Visit Dr Epstein at RonaldEpstein.com.

Article about the author’s Gold Humanism Award:

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/4772/ronald-epstein-honored-for-humanism-in-medicine.aspx

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

If they asked me to provide a single word review of this book, I would write AMEN.

Ronald Epstein, the author and practising doctor with his own clinic, after years of studying a variety of disciplines (including music, meditation, Philosophy, Zen, Medicine…) and of trying to find the best way to maintain a practice sensitive to the needs of patients, compassionate, focused on well-being and avoiding suffering, rather than on billing, money and the business-side of things, published an article called ‘Mindful Practice’ in 1999. The article was very well received and resulted in the author becoming a speaker and offering training to other health professionals, emphasising the important of being mindful of one’s practice. In this book, the author shares his insight and knowledge to help other physicians avoid errors, burnout, and remember what Medicine should really be about. He offers plenty of background research and information (with abundant notes that take up more than a third of the book and a useful bibliography for those who want to check the original sources) interspersed with case stories that illustrate the topics. These include cases Dr Epstein had personal experience of (both as a physician and as a patient) and others that he’s accumulated over years of educating other professionals and talking to friends and colleagues. These cases not only reinforce the theoretical points but also add a practical and personal touch that can be lost in purely theoretical texts.

The book is written in a fluid and clear style, accessible and interesting also to those who might not work in healthcare, although it is particularly geared towards health professionals.  Due to the themes and subjects touched upon, this book would be useful to individuals and institutions heavily invested in helping people and dealing with the public, in particular, those offering care. Although many of the reflections are particularly pertinent to individuals, the emphasis on education and the fact that many of the qualities discussed, like compassion and resilience can be taught, are particularly important for organisations and institutions that manage human resources. As Dr Epstein explains, they would go a long way to help avoid professional burnout.

Although Attending mentions Zen, neurocognitive studies, philosophers’ books, mindfulness and meditation, the overall message does not require an in-depth knowledge of any of those subjects and I cannot imagine anybody who would not find something useful in this volume.

As a doctor and one who left the job a few years back less than enamoured with the way health care is organised, I kept nodding all the way through. I highlighted so many sentences and quotes that I cannot share them all, but I will choose a few ones that I felt were particularly pertinent:

Medicine is in crisis. Physicians and patients are disillusioned, frustrated by the fragmentation of the health care system. Patients cannot help but notice that I spend more and more time looking at computer screens and less time face-to-face. They experience the consequences of the commodification of medicine that has forced clinicians’ focus from the healing of patients to the mechanics of health care —productivity pressures, insurance regulations, actuarial tasks, and demoralizing metrics that measure what can be counted and not what really counts, sometimes ironically in the name of evidence-based and patient-centered care.

Maslach found that burnout consisted of three factors: emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation (treating people as objects), and a feeling of low personal accomplishment.

But now, in the age of the corporatization and widgetization of medicine, there is a new kind of burnout, a slow, relentless “deterioration of values, dignity, spirit and will” that comes from the structure of health care itself.

The problem is not only overwork; it’s a crisis of meaning, resilience, and community.

As I said, I think this book should be required reading for medical students, qualified doctors and also for other professionals working in healthcare and those who manage staff and organise the educational programmes of institutions, not only those providing healthcare but also any that deal with the public and its problems on a regular basis.

If I were to make a suggestion, it would be that the book could easily be made even more relevant to other disciplines by adding examples pertaining to other professions (not only nurses or paramedics but also social workers, counsellors, teachers…). It is clear from the content that although the principles can be applied individually, organisations would also do well adopting the ideals and attitudes highlighted by the research. Becoming attentive, compassionate, curious and mindful would help patients and staff increase their wellbeing and avoid burnout and complaints.

I recommend this book to all healthcare professionals, and those interested in how to improve healthcare and increase the resilience and wellbeing of staff. I think that anybody could potentially benefit from this book, and I’d recommend checking the sample if you think it might help you. I will definitely recommend it to some of my previous work colleagues.

Thanks to Scribner and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! And don’t forget to leave a review if you read a book. 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Tuesdaybookblog #Bookreview DIDN’T GET FRAZZLED by David Z Hirsch #RBRT Sometimes it’s hard to be a doctor

Hi all:

I bring you a review today of a book that when I was approached about it by the author, I had to say yes and you’ll see why very soon. I thank both Rosie Amber and the author for providing me with a copy of this book that brought so many memories for me.

Here it is:

Didn’t Get Frazzled by David Z Hirsch

Didn’t Get Frazzled by David Z Hirsch Sometimes it’s hard to be a doctor (well, all  the time)

Didn’t Get Frazzled

A provocative and humorous novel about four years in the life of an intrepid young medical student, set in the grueling world of an elite NYC medical school.

“…the best fictional portrayal of med school since ER.” – BlueInk Review, starred review
Medical student Seth Levine faces escalating stress and gallows humor as he struggles with the collapse of his romantic relationships and all preconceived notions of what it means to be a doctor. It doesn’t take long before he realizes not getting frazzled is the least of his problems.

Seth encounters a student so arrogant he boasts that he’ll eat any cadaver part he can’t name, an instructor so dedicated she tests the student’s ability to perform a gynecological exam on herself, and a woman so captivating that Seth will do whatever it takes to make her laugh, including regale her with a story about a diagnostic squabble over an erection.

Didn’t Get Frazzled captures with distressing accuracy the gauntlet idealistic college grads must face to secure an MD and, against the odds, come out of it a better human being.

>>> Cringe, laugh, fall in love, cringe some more…

If only medical school was actually this entertaining.

Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Didnt-Get-Frazzled-David-Hirsch-ebook/dp/B01DOHSK0M/

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Didnt-Get-Frazzled-David-Hirsch-ebook/dp/B01DOHSK0M/

Amazon Spain: https://www.amazon.es/dp/B01DOHSK0M

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29748682-didn-t-get-frazzled

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/didnt-get-frazzled-david-z-hirsch/1123610624?ean=2940152949414

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/didn-t-get-frazzled

Apple iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/didnt-get-frazzled/id1099034309?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

LibraryThing: https://www.librarything.com/work/18996986

A bit about the author (well, sort of):

Author David Z Hirsch (perhaps)

David Z Hirsch grew up on the steppes of Nebraska peddling Kool-Aid off I-129 until saving up enough cash for medical school. After graduation, he moved to Pyongyang to teach pre-med classes at Kim Il-sung University. He soon fell out of favor and was imprisoned at Kaechon where he traded medical favors for soup and toilet paper until he made a daring escape across the border.

Dr. Hirsch subsisted for the next three years by foraging gooseberries and licking the dew off spiny toads. This led to a burst of creativity, and he wrote the first draft of Didn’t Get Frazzled on bark peeled off a dying Manchurian Ash tree. Ultimately discovered in a semi-feral state by the China Coast Guard flotilla from Liaoning, Dr. Hirsch returned to the United States sixty pounds lighter but more inspired than ever.

David Z Hirsch is a pen name, so absolutely nothing in the above paragraphs are true. This is not lying, you see. It’s fiction. Many well-regarded sources insist that these are two distinct things. The actual guy who wrote this novel is a practicing physician in Maryland. His life story is considerably more prosaic, but in his head, he lives a fascinating, fascinating life.

https://www.amazon.com/David-Z-Hirsch/e/B01DQ6XAGK/

My review:

I’m reviewing this book on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank the author and Rosie for the ARC copy of the book that I voluntarily chose to review.

I’m a doctor and I must admit this book brought many memories for me (although I studied Medicine almost ten years earlier than the character Seth in the book and in Barcelona, Spain, where the system of medical training is slightly different to the one in the US that’s portrayed in the book): the shared experiences (some pleasant, some not so much), the trials, the discoveries, the surprises, the stress, the uncertainty… I’m sure anybody who’s studied and/or worked in a health-related field will be able to identify with much of the books’ content, especially the struggle between the need to offer the best care and the reality of what is available and how specific services work. Not all patients are patient, not all colleagues are helpful, and no matter how hard we try, things don’t always work out.

The story is told in the first person from the point of view of Seth, who has always wanted to be a doctor and manages to get into Medical School in New York. His long-term girlfriend, April, goes with him, and they hope that being together will help them both survive the experience, but that proves not to the case. Trying to juggle the pressures of Medical School (that with the regular schedule, on-calls and studying leave little time for personal life, especially if the significant other is not another medical student) and a relationship that is changing proves complicated, and when the relationship ends, Seth finds it difficult to move on. Whilst Seth, the medical student, is usually successful at navigating the intricacies of his training, acquiring knowledge, and trying to deal with both patients and staff, Seth, the man, has more difficulty managing his emotions. He relies on his friends, explores relationships (some that confuse matters even more) and by the end, might have found somebody new. When one of his trainers says of him that he doesn’t get frazzled, he decides to adopt it as his motto, and he manages to live up to it, at least in appearance, most of the time. But he has moments when things get too much for him and then his coping mechanisms are not always the best. He goes above and beyond his duty for the patients and we’re sure he’ll make a good doctor, but he’s far from perfect and only a human being, after all. We see him interact with some of this friends too, most of them medical students as well, and that offers us different perspectives on the effect the training has and on how it affects people’s lives. It also allows us to see him in a more relaxed environment and get a better sense of what kind of person Seth is.

The plot, such as it is, is the process of transformation of a somewhat naïve student into a doctor, more or less ready to face professional life and it follows the chronology of his studies, from first year eager student to an experienced third year who’s teaching others. There are amusing (although some readers might find some of them gross) episodes, some to do with medical school and others with everyday life (cockroaches and mice included). There are also some sad and touching moments and some inspiring and reflective observations. At a time when medical care and its provision is a matter of much debate, this book, that illustrates the experience from the perspective of those directly engaged in providing it, can help personalise the issue and return the focus where it should be, patients and the caring professionals. As I am a doctor, I’m not in the best position to comment how much of the material might be too specialised and medically-based for the general readership to enjoy. A fair amount of the book consists of following medical students through training, be it studying anatomy, attending post-mortem examinations, going through a very special gynaecological examination training, and also descriptions of cases they have to treat (many among the less privileged echelons of society). Due to this, I would not recommend this book to readers who don’t enjoy books with a medical background, and in my opinion, it is more detailed than what is usually found in TV medical series or some fiction such as medical mysteries.

This is a well-written book that gives a very good idea of what life as a medical student in the US is (or at least was in the 1990s). The characters and the anecdotes have a realistic feel and it will be particularly appreciated by those in the health professions or considering them as an option.  Readers who enjoy medical fiction would gain a better understanding of the realities behind the fiction by reading this book. Not recommended for people who are squeamish but it will be an inspiring read for many.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie Amber, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

GET MY FREE BOOKS
%d bloggers like this:
x Logo: Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security