Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

                Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. While on the operating table receiving treatment, the surgeon on duty took two samples from Henrietta without her knowledge. Those samples were then sent to another doctor where her cells were grown in a lab. The cells were labeled HeLa, from the first two letters of her first and last name. Her cells would continue to be grown and distributed to labs around the world. HeLa cells behaved unlike any other cells and would be flown into space, tested numerous times and would help in research against some of the most virulent and well known diseases. HeLa cells changed science. But Henrietta Lacks wouldn’t know about any of that. She would die in October 4, 1951. Her family wouldn’t learn about her “immortal” cells until two decades later.
                The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a comprehensive look at Henrietta’s life, the affect the HeLa cells had on science, and the family that is still struggling to make ends meet even though millions of dollars have been made off of Henrietta’s cells. This brings into question the moral responsibilities doctors have in taking tissues from their patients and the ethics involved as well. It covers racism and the treatment of black people by the medical community in the mid 1900’s and how Henrietta’s treatment is a direct result of that. Skloot also takes a lot of time gaining the trust of the family and discusses that in this book. It’s an emotional read that really examines the scientific community and how one family has been detrimentally affected by it.

                This book has the ability to tear someone apart. There were quite a few moments when I found myself extremely upset while reading this book. I was infuriated by not just Henrietta’s treatment but the treatment of her family and other patients like her. There is an issue of trust that has to be examined in situations like this. You put your trust in doctors and the idea of them taking tissues without your knowledge for “research” and having them ultimately profit from them is extremely unsettling. I thought Skloot did a really great job with balancing the science with the human element. It is well researched and thorough. I feel like it’s an ode to Henrietta. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

                When people look back on the history of America’s Civil War often the focus is solely on the effect this war had on the United States and its ability to own slaves. Rightfully so. The idea of a country splitting itself in two so half of that country can own human beings is extremely problematic and questions not only the morals of that country but where it will continue to stand in history. What makes Our Man in Charleston stand out from other Civil War historical books is that the focus is towards Britain and the man partly responsible for keeping Great Britain out of the war. That man was the British Consul in Charleston, South Carolina, Robert Bunch.
                I can honestly say that the majority of the information provided within these pages, is information I had never been privy to. It’s interesting and scary to imagine how different the outcome of the war may have been if a man like Robert Bunch hadn’t been front and center and able to honestly report to the British Crown the activities taking place in Charleston. As a man opposed to slavery, Bunch was in a precarious position. He had to live in South Carolina and maintain relationships with people who condoned slavery and in many instances praised its existence. His letters to other consuls and to London showed his true feelings toward the South. Bunch was disgusted by slavery and was afraid, as were many in London, that those in the South were trying to open the African Slave Trade again in the South. His reporting both before and during the war would be a saving grace in keeping the crown out of the war.

                I really enjoyed this book. It was well written, extremely well researched, with great world building and an abundance of information. The tension was believable and the problems laid bare. I think Dickey did a great job constructing the life of Bunch by using his letters and his own opinions as often as possible. I can easily recommend it to anyone interested in Civil War history. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Columbine by Dave Cullen (2009)

Columbine by Dave Cullen

                On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed thirteen people at their high school before shooting themselves. The footage was shown on every news station for hours. Rumors began immediately about them being bullied, members of the Trench Coat Mafia, outcast, Goths. For a while the police weren’t sure if there were only two shooters, maybe there was a possible third. At the end of the day, 12 students and a teacher were murdered, many others were injured and the two young men who committed the crimes turned the gun on themselves and took their own lives. One young man escaped by pushing himself out of a window, even though he was horribly injured, into the arms of the Swat team. I learned later of the young girl who professed her faith before being killed. I remember the footage and I remember the horror and the fear that came from that day. I also remember the accusations and the focus on bullying. I even remember Marilyn Manson being dragged into the argument and violent video games being blamed. Years would pass before I heard anything about Harris and Klebold’s true plan and even then I wasn’t sure if it was true because it didn’t fit the narrative I remembered. Cullen destroys the original and false narrative that has been so widely accepted for well over a decade. Through research and interviews with survivors Cullen provides a look at not only the killers but the media that covered the story, the police that hid information and the survivors that tried to move on past this tragedy.
                Columbine is a well written and extremely well-researched non-fiction book about a tragedy that many people think they are familiar with. Cullen wanted readers to know the true story behind the shooting. As a reporter Cullen was very well aware of the storm created by the media regarding the tragedy. He was also very aware of the impact this shooting had on later school shootings where people for various reasons tried to emulate Harris and Klebold. This book is full of all the information you could ever want to know about the events at Columbine and the events that transpired after. He takes his time with the narrative constantly changing from before, during and after the shooting. Cullen looks at each avenue as well, from the investigation that took place, the media outcry, the parents of the killers and the survivors.

                I couldn’t stop reading this book. Part of it was because there was so much information regarding Columbine that I didn’t know or understand. When I first started reading and realized the extent Harris and Klebold had planned to go, I almost felt betrayed. This was never about being bullied or being a Goth or violent videogames. Once I realized that, I realized how much I wanted to know about what really happened. My hat comes off to Cullen because he did an incredible job handling this subject and being respectful to everyone involved. It’s difficult expelling the myths that have pervaded through society, whether it’s about a myth regarding professing one’s faith before dying or having a target list. I found the actions by the police during and after the investigation to be the most disturbing and I was glad Cullen spent time discussing what happened and why. I thought this book was incredible and disturbing in many ways. I give it 5 out of 5 stars. If you want to understand the events at Columbine this would be the book to read. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008)

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

                Enzo isn’t afraid of what comes next. He knows that when he dies, he will leave his canine body behind, and become a human. He saw that on a documentary and believes it to be true so he isn’t afraid. He will miss Denny though. Denny chose him out of all the puppies at the farm. He took him home and loved him. Taught him everything there is to know about racing and then expanded the family to include his wife Eve and their daughter Zoe. But when Eve got sick things began to change. Their schedule became completely different. Denny was afraid to leave and race. Enzo saw everything and it’s their story that he is telling now. The story of his family, the love they shared and the life he lived with them.
                This is one of those books that make you think about every single relationship you have and how it affects everyone around you. The idea of having the dog narrate the story was brilliant. Enzo is an amazing character, rich with detail and an amusing personality. This is a dog with a wide plethora of information, witty and charismatic. I loved the way he focused on the nuances of being human. The simple changes in body language, dialect, even hormones that can give off so many signals to the persistent observer or dog. I couldn’t get enough of Enzo’s narrative. It was so straight forward and so matter-of-fact that it almost caught me off guard at times. The emotions Stein was able to portray through Enzo was absolutely amazing. It might be because (many) humans find dogs so trustworthy and intuitive that it was easy to trust Enzo regardless of the fact that he was bias towards Denny. Enzo could easily detect and convey the emotions of other people, whether they were genuine, deceitful, loving or trifling and in this story his instinct was always correct.

                I loved Enzo’s depth and the depth of the story. I read this is one sitting and I genuinely could not stop turning the pages. The narrative flowed so easily and the story, while slightly predictable at times, was so well done that I had to finish. There was so much about what is great about the human spirit and what could be inherently selfish about human beings. And again this was all through the eyes of a dog. Stein executed this plot so well. I needed a book to get me out of a stagnant reading spell and this was it. I applaud him for developing these characters so well and creating a story that while simple at first, held so many intricacies. This is a sad story but not because Enzo was in any way mistreated or unloved. But because he was loved and loved those around him and had to watch them experiencing, as he did, devastating loss and trials. Well done. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. Easily recommended to dog lovers and people who consider their pets to be family. Because they are in so many ways. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers by Stephen Shames and Bobby Seale

Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers by Stephen Shames and Bobby Seales

                Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers is a collaborative effort between photographer Stephen Shames, Bobby Seale and other members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense to tell their story. Their efforts are extremely successful with the amazing photography and the gripping oral history within this book. The images speak for themselves. They are extremely powerful, reflecting the life of a member of the Black Panther Party in the sixties. The oral history provided by the many members gives the necessary context for the photos so one can truly understand the message they were trying to convey and their purpose. This book isn’t meant to be an in depth look at the entire history of the Black Panther Party. It does though provide a great introduction to leaders of the party, their goals, struggles, ideologies and their community outreach. An all-around great read with amazing visuals and poignant historical details. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Netgalley for this book in exchange for an honest review.