Thursday, February 13, 2014

This Week's Books

A riveting, revelatory, and moving account of the author’s struggles with anxiety, and of the history of efforts by scientists, philosophers, and writers to understand the condition

As recently as thirty-five years ago, anxiety did not exist as a diagnostic category. Today, it is the most common form of officially classified mental illness. Scott Stossel gracefully guides us across the terrain of an affliction that is pervasive yet too often misunderstood.

Drawing on his own long-standing battle with anxiety, Stossel presents an astonishing history, at once intimate and authoritative, of the efforts to understand the condition from medical, cultural, philosophical, and experiential perspectives. He ranges from the earliest medical reports of Galen and Hippocrates, through later observations by Robert Burton and Søren Kierkegaard, to the investigations by great nineteenth-century scientists, such as Charles Darwin, William James, and Sigmund Freud, as they began to explore its sources and causes, to the latest research by neuroscientists and geneticists. Stossel reports on famous individuals who struggled with anxiety, as well as on the afflicted generations of his own family. His portrait of anxiety reveals not only the emotion’s myriad manifestations and the anguish anxiety produces but also the countless psychotherapies, medications, and other (often outlandish) treatments that have been developed to counteract it. Stossel vividly depicts anxiety’s human toll—its crippling impact, its devastating power to paralyze—while at the same time exploring how those who suffer from it find ways to manage and control it.

My Age of Anxiety is learned and empathetic, humorous and inspirational, offering the reader great insight into the biological, cultural, and environmental factors that contribute to the affliction.

Umm...this one's pretty self-explanatory. All comments about squealing like a pig will be graded for originality.

Chizmar celebrates the 25th anniversary of his Cemetery Dance magazine with new stories by the small group of writers whom he considers an integral part of the magazine's history. New stories by Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Clive Barker would be enough to make this one of the notable horror collections of the year, and all of those are indeed solid (particularly King's "Summer Thunder," a heartbreaking tale of two men and a dog awaiting certain death after nuclear war). Pieces by less mainstream, more cultish writers also hold their own. Ed Gorman's "Flying Solo," a tale of two widowed cancer patients who decide to become vigilantes, is typically clever, while Norman Partridge's "Incarnadine" is a tight, brutal take on supernatural revenge movies. Bentley Little's "In the Room" is a chilling and disturbing story of people mysteriously disappearing from a man's life. Even the few weak tales—like Ronald Kelly's "The Outhouse," a straightforward boys-unleash-monsters story—are entertaining enough, if nothing new. Chizmar has essentially produced an all-star, book-length issue of his magazine, and horror fans should be sure to pick it up. (Publishers Weekly)

Pat and Sarah had long been friends, not just brother and sister. They supported each other, shared music and movies, and confided in each other as they went through the many challenging stages of adolescence. But something began to change in Pat. He was convinced people were watching him, spying on him. Once outgoing and sociable, he began to withdraw into a world of his own, on the inside, where social engagement was not necessary nor desired. He stopped taking care of his personal hygiene. Conversation became increasingly difficult. After a series of visits with psychologists, he was diagnosed at first with bi-polar disorder, and then, more accurately with schizophrenia with paranoid delusions. His world, and that of his sister’s, changed forever.

This is the story of one sister’s fight to convince her family that her brother needed help, that initial efforts to curtail his symptoms were inadequate, that he needed additional intervention. At the same time, it is the story of her own struggles with anxiety and depression, and coping with the changes in her life as her brother suffered at home. And finally, it is the story of one family’s acceptance of a difficult diagnosis and their embracing of the child and brother they have always known and loved. Schizophrenia, indeed mental illness in general, is often misunderstood and therefore feared by society at large. Here, the author helps to dislodge some long-held assumptions about mental illness and encourages readers to ask questions, to offer help and support, and to advocate for assistance for anyone suffering mental illness before it’s too late. She offers a voice to all the sisters and brothers of the mentally ill, so that they may find comfort in her words and hope for their siblings.

Equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner's Handbook is "a vicious, page-turning story that reads more like Raymond Chandler than Madame Curie" (The New York Observer)

A fascinating Jazz Age tale of chemistry and detection, poison and murder, The Poisoner's Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten era. In early twentieth-century New York, poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Science had no place in the Tammany Hall-controlled coroner's office, and corruption ran rampant. However, with the appointment of chief medical examiner Charles Norris in 1918, the poison game changed forever. Together with toxicologist Alexander Gettler, the duo set the justice system on fire with their trailblazing scientific detective work, triumphing over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice.

What can we learn from the genomes of our closest evolutionary relatives?

Neanderthal Man tells the story of geneticist Svante Pääbo’s mission to answer this question, and recounts his ultimately successful efforts to genetically define what makes us different from our Neanderthal cousins. Beginning with the study of DNA in Egyptian mummies in the early 1980s and culminating in the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, Neanderthal Man describes the events, intrigues, failures, and triumphs of these scientifically rich years through the lens of the pioneer and inventor of the field of ancient DNA.

We learn that Neanderthal genes offer a unique window into the lives of our hominin relatives and may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of why humans survived while Neanderthals went extinct. Drawing on genetic and fossil clues, Pääbo explores what is known about the origin of modern humans and their relationship to the Neanderthals and describes the fierce debate surrounding the nature of the two species’ interactions. His findings have not only redrawn our family tree, but recast the fundamentals of human history—the biological beginnings of fully modern Homo sapiens, the direct ancestors of all people alive today.

A riveting story about a visionary researcher and the nature of scientific inquiry, Neanderthal Man offers rich insight into the fundamental question of who we are.

The National Book Award–winning author of The Echo Maker delivers his most emotionally charged novel to date, inspired by the myth of Orpheus.

"If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century…he'd probably be the Herman Melville of Moby-Dick. His picture is that big," wrote Margaret Atwood (New York Review of Books). Indeed, since his debut in 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, Richard Powers has been astonishing readers with novels that are sweeping in range, dazzling in technique, and rich in their explorations of music, art, literature, and technology.

In Orfeo, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab—the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns—has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els—the "Bioterrorist Bach"—pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them. The result is a novel that soars in spirit and language by a writer who “may be America’s most ambitious novelist” (Kevin Berger, San Francisco Chronicle).

A haunting story of love and survival that introduces an unforgettable literary heroine

Ladydi Garcia Martínez is fierce, funny and smart. She was born into a world where being a girl is a dangerous thing. In the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, women must fend for themselves, as their men have left to seek opportunities elsewhere. Here in the shadow of the drug war, bodies turn up on the outskirts of the village to be taken back to the earth by scorpions and snakes. School is held sporadically, when a volunteer can be coerced away from the big city for a semester. In Guerrero the drug lords are kings, and mothers disguise their daughters as sons, or when that fails they “make them ugly” – cropping their hair, blackening their teeth- anything to protect them from the rapacious grasp of the cartels. And when the black SUVs roll through town, Ladydi and her friends burrow into holes in their backyards like animals, tucked safely out of sight.

While her mother waits in vain for her husband’s return, Ladydi and her friends dream of a future that holds more promise than mere survival, finding humor, solidarity and fun in the face of so much tragedy. When Ladydi is offered work as a nanny for a wealthy family in Acapulco, she seizes the chance, and finds her first taste of love with a young caretaker there. But when a local murder tied to the cartel implicates a friend, Ladydi’s future takes a dark turn. Despite the odds against her, this spirited heroine’s resilience and resolve bring hope to otherwise heartbreaking conditions.

An illuminating and affecting portrait of women in rural Mexico, and a stunning exploration of the hidden consequences of an unjust war, PRAYERS FOR THE STOLEN is an unforgettable story of friendship, family, and determination.

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Of the approximately 38,500 deaths by suicide in the U.S. annually, about two percent--between 750 and 800--are murder-suicides. The horror of murder-suicides looms large in the public consciousness--they are reported in the media with more frequency and far more sensationalism than most suicides, and yet we have little understanding of this grave form of violence.

In The Perversion of Virtue, leading suicide researcher Thomas Joiner explores the nature of murder-suicide and offers a unique new theory to explain this nearly unexplainable act: that murder-suicides always involve the wrongheaded invocation of one of four interpersonal virtues: mercy, justice, duty, and glory. The parent who murders his child and then himself seeks to save his child from a fatherless life of hardship; the wife who murders her husband and then herself seeks to right the wrongs he committed against her, and so on. Murder-suicides involve the gross misperception of when and how these four virtues should be applied.

Drawing from extensive research as well as real examples from the media, Joiner meticulously examines, deconstructs, and finally rebuilds our understanding of murder-suicide in such a way that brings tragic reason to what may seem an unfathomable act of violence. Along the way, he dispels some of the most enduring myths of suicide--for instance, that suicide is usually an impulsive act (it is almost always pre-meditated), or that alcohol or drugs are involved in most suicides (usually they are not).

Sure to be controversial, this book seeks to make sense of one of the most difficult-to-comprehend types of violence in modern society, shedding new light that will ultimately lead to better understanding and even prevention.

1 comment:

whkattk said...

Cemetery Dance - I must look into this!