Hot Lights, Cold Steel tells the story of Dr. Collins while he was a resident at the Mayo Clinic. Specifically, it is a medical memoir about his life; Dr. Collins went from a lowly junior resident to the chief resident of orthopedics at one of the most renowned hospitals in the world. He did this by working his way up and working tirelessly, trying to learn all he could. Moreover, he worked extremely hard to support his family, moonlighting in Mankato Hospital 90 miles away from his home just to make ends meet. The story is centered on the theme of choices and making the right one for the patient in the hardest of circumstances. For example, a young teenager came to him with a severely damaged leg, and he had to make the choice of whether to amputate the leg or try to save the leg and risk the boy’s life. Dr. Collins’ story is absolutely riveting and a great read for anyone interested in becoming a doctor. – Simar B. ’20
From start to finish, I was thoroughly captivated by Rebecca Skloot’s biography, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot masterfully conveys the heartbreaking story of Henrietta Lacks, a thirty-one year old African-American woman suffering from cervical cancer whose cells were taken for research without her consent. With a magical sensation, I learned that Henrietta Lacks’ cells, dubbed HeLa by scientists, reproduced rapidly and continuously unlike any cells before, resulting in a scientific miracle; however, Skloot stresses the fact that Lacks’ family was not informed about the mystifying HeLa cells as they struggled to survive in poverty, while commercial ventures profited from her cells.
Skloot effectively describes the high racial tensions during the 1950s, with only John Hopkins Hospital available for African-Americans for miles; she also narrates harrowing stories of research conducted on unsuspecting patients, especially African-Americans. She was able to warm the Lacks family’s heart, despite their profound distrust of reporters, by promising to reveal the face behind the name HeLa. With ten years of devotion to writing this book, Skloot not only described the ethical issues behind HeLa cells and scientific cell research, but also emotionally articulated the frustration and story of the Lacks family. Overall, I was amazed at how Skloot evokes so many different emotions from the reader throughout this detailed and interesting 381 page book. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who would like to read a breathtaking, informative book about the science and ethics behind cell research. – Saloni S. ’21
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is a thrilling biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, treats millions of patients from Haiti to Siberia with his charity Partners in Health. Dr. Farmer epitomizes the founding tenets of medicine, devoting himself to curing patients of their ailments regardless of their socio-economic status. He commits himself to serving the poor and the needy, trying to treat poverty and one of its symptom: sickness. The book is absolutely riveting and inspiring, putting you in the eyes of Dr. Farmer. This is a man who does not take “no” for an answer and will see everything to the end. He truly does change the world one patient at a time. Among other good works, the book describes how Dr. Farmer is able to reduce the cost of second-line drugs for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis by ninety-five percent and establishes a free clinic in Cange, a desolate region in Haiti. Overall, I loved how Kidder portrays Farmer and allows you to understand the motivation that pushes this man to give up everything for a cause. It reminds you that there are people in this world who will “fight the long defeat,” as Kidder puts it, to do the right thing and help the impoverished of the world (257). – Simar B. ’20
Award-winning travel writer David Quammen brings you along on his latest fantastic journey across the world, documenting the origin and emergence of dangerous zoonoses, viral infections that come to humans from other species. Quammen is a brilliant narrator, combining humor with intellectual information to trace the spread of viruses like Ebola, AIDS and H1N1 as well as lesser known but no less frightening varieties. Unfortunately, he can only go so far, and readers who are not ardent fans of biology may find the narrative, at times, boring. However, readers will be pulled into the globe-crossing journey as Quammen gives a first-person perspective of his travels and hands-on experience with researchers. Fans of biology and people who like reading about worldly issues will find Spillover a fantastic read. – Akshay B. ‘16
Crashing Through shares Paralympic winner Mike May’s journey from blindness into a world of sight, the struggles of this journey, the science behind the surgery that made Mike’s vision possible, and his ultimate destiny. The book excellently increases the reader’s understanding of blindness both on a scientific and social level. Kurson thoroughly fleshes out Mike’s emotions, thoughts, and choices. On the flip side, the author spends about a third of the book explaining why Mike chose to have the surgery, yet determining Mike’s choice was pretty obvious just by looking at the cover of the book. The book did, however, become increasingly more interesting in the second half. Considering that Mike May’s story is rare, as this surgery has only been given to a selected few before, the book leaves an insight not only on blindness but also on the surgery. As a result, this book can appeal to any reader but is particularly interesting for those interested in blindness. – Zina J. ‘14
A Harvard doctor’s perspective on medicine, The Checklist Manifesto offers a unique and workable way to make medicine safer and more efficient: checklists. Like his previous two works, Gawande’s third book deals with the shortcomings in the practice of medicine and, more importantly, simple ways to fix them. Having observed the benefits of checklists in other professions, such as airplane piloting and construction, Gawande moves to bring it into medicine. Gawande uses a sophisticated, crisp writing style. His, suspenseful narrations of medical cases paint the vivid scenes and his suggestions are well founded in research, and personal experience. Though his book is compiled as a series of essays, it reads like a gripping novel that sets the reader to serious consideration not only of medicine, but also of the little mistakes in everyday occupations and how a simple checklist can save lives. Any reader will enjoy this refreshing, probing, and eloquent discussion of the modern workplace. – Samyu Y. ‘15