I was half way through reading ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari on the tube the other week when a fellow commuter asked me what the book is about. Even though I have been writing reviews regularly for over five years, I still don’t enjoy being put on the spot about books I am still reading and mulling over, particularly at 8:15am on a crowded train. My initial response was to say that it’s about, well, pretty much everything. Even though that statement is fairly accurate, the expression on his face suggested that it was also quite unhelpful, so I added that it’s about how and why the human race has developed in the way that it has. This appeared to be a more satisfactory answer, which is just as well because I still can’t think of a better way to summarise its content.
Tag Archives: Science
Formerly known as the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction has a new sponsor this year and a longlist of ten books, whittled down last month to a shortlist of just four. Open to authors of any nationality, it covers all areas of non-fiction including current affairs, politics, history, science, sport, travel, biography and autobiography. This year’s shortlisted books are:
- Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich (translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich)
- Negroland by Margo Jefferson
- The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar
- East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands
The subtitle of Gavin Francis’ travel memoir would be a reasonably concise answer to the question: “What comes to mind when you think of Antarctica?”. While ice and emperor penguins are the more obvious responses to be expected from those who have never been there, it is the silence of such a remote landscape which Francis dwells on in his account of the fourteen months he spent as the base-camp doctor at the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley research station on the Caird Coast. What becomes clear from reading ‘Empire Antarctica’ is that claustrophobia and isolation are also major factors, although that would have made a much less satisfying book title. Continue reading
Longlisted for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, ‘The Giraffe’s Neck’ by Judith Schalansky and translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside tells the story of Inge Lohmark, a biology teacher approaching the end of her career at a high school in a former East German country backwater. She has a firm belief in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution yet, somewhat ironically, she is highly resistant to adapting to change in her own life.
Having greatly enjoyed ‘Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery’ by Henry Marsh late last year, I wanted to read ‘Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine, and What Matters in the End’ by Atul Gawande, a book which formed the basis of the Reith lectures entitled ‘The Future of Medicine’ on BBC Radio 4 last year. Gawande is a writer and practicing surgeon based in Massachusetts who has published three other books about medicine. In ‘Being Mortal’, he tackles the wider issue of mortality addressing the process of aging, dying and death, without focusing on a specific area of healthcare or even his own career. Continue reading
Now approaching retirement after working as a senior consultant at St George’s Hospital in London since 1987, ‘Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery’ is Henry Marsh’s reflection on a long and distinguished career in neurosurgeon. Yet the first sentence of the opening chapter is rather disconcerting to say the least, especially coming from one of the most experienced neurosurgeons in the UK: “I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing.” Having encountered a significant number of highs and lows throughout his career, it is soon clear this isn’t something Marsh has ever taken for granted. Continue reading
‘Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients’ by Ben Goldacre exposes the dodgy trial methods and practices behind the $600 billion pharmaceutical industry. In a nutshell, drug companies regularly hide negative results from clinical trials and exaggerate the benefits of medicines in order to make vast profits. Even regulators have been known to withhold information and allow ineffectual or dangerous drugs onto the market. The consequence is that both doctors and patients are unable to make well-informed decisions about healthcare. Continue reading