Tag Archives: Science

Chernobyl by Serhii Plokhy

Chernobyl Serhii PlokhyWinner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction last year, ‘Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy’ by Serhii Plokhy is a comprehensive account of the worst nuclear accident in history. The small Ukrainian city will forever be associated with the explosion which occurred on 26th April 1986 after a failed safety test. It is now a key destination for “disaster tourism”, despite the 30-mile exclusion zone which is still in place around the site of the reactor which will remain unfit for human habitation for 20,000 years. The technical statistics are staggering – the radiation released by the explosion was equivalent to 500 Hiroshima bombs spreading rapidly across Europe – and the human cost of those affected by radiation sickness is incalculable. Continue reading

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Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus Yuval Noah Harari‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’ is the follow-up to the hugely successful ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari which I read last year. Having examined the development of humans in his first book through the cognitive, agricultural, scientific and industrial revolutions, Harari turns to the challenges of the future in which humans will seek to “upgrade” from Homo Sapiens to gods (or “Homo Deus”), re-engineering our physical and mental capabilities to prevent ageing, escape death and increase happiness. The impact of famine, war and plague has been significantly reduced in recent decades, to the point where we now face the opposite challenges in the form of an obesity crisis, caring for an ageing population with people living longer than ever and a world where more people commit suicide than are killed by terrorists, criminals and conflicts. Continue reading

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The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman

The Vaccine Race Meredith Wadman‘The Vaccine Race: How Scientists Used Human Cells to Combat Killer Diseases’ by Meredith Wadman is an account of the history, science and ethics of vaccine development in the United States. It primarily concerns the career of American anatomy professor Leonard Hayflick and his quest to find and mass produce the safest human cells for use in vaccines at a time when viruses such as polio and rubella were far more prevalent than they are today. Continue reading

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The Wellcome Book Prize Longlist 2018

Wellcome Book Prize 2018 LonglistThis year’s Wellcome Book Prize longlist has been announced today. The twelve books are:

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris
In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s by Joseph Jebelli
Plot 29: A Memoir by Allan Jenkins
The White Book by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)
With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial by Kathryn Mannix
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell
Mayhem: A Memoir by Sigrid Rausing
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky
The Vaccine Race: How Scientists Used Human Cells to Combat Killer Viruses by Meredith Wadman Continue reading

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Three Non-Fiction Books About Medicine

Pale Rider Laura SpinneyPale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed The World by Laura Spinney probably isn’t what most people consider to be cosy festive reading over Christmas but it is somewhat seasonal. Much of what has been written about the Spanish flu tends to focus on the impact it had on Western countries in the aftermath of the First World War but Spinney’s book is a refreshingly global account of how the virus reached all corners of the earth from Alaska to Rio de Janeiro to Samoa to China. Estimates remain vague but the Spanish flu is believed to have killed at least 50 million people worldwide, possibly as many as 100 million, and its rapid spread is likely to have been partly exacerbated by soldiers returning home at the end of the First World War. Continue reading

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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah HarariI 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.

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The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2016

Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2016

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

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Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence and Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis

Empire Antarctica Gavin Francis Ice Silence Emperor PenguinsThe 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

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The Giraffe’s Neck by Judith Schalansky

The Giraffe's NeckLonglisted 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.

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Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being MortalHaving 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

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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

Do No HarmNow 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

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Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre

bad pharma‘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

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Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre exposes the manipulated statistics, flawed analysis and general misuse and/or bad practice of science by journalists, the pharmaceutical industry and other quacks.  From medical trials which fail to include a control group to misleading cosmetic and health food marketing, the book examines the people and the data behind some of the weakest areas of scientific and health research. Continue reading

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