Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Iain Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost. This was a total riot - I actually had to hide it for a week so I'd study. It's four separate narrations of the same events, with, of course, each teller reaching different conclusions and in their own ways unreliable. But it's not one of those annoying post-modern non-mystery novels that you are supposed to make your own conclusions on and are frustratingly inconclusive; it's an old fashioned mystery that ties up quite nicely at the end. Set in Restoration England, and with a few Natural Philosophers as characters spouting great debate and experimenting away, it might remind you of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, although it reminded me more of the historical thriller The Name of the Rose (by Umberto Eco), or maybe Possession: A Romance (by A. S. Byatt). A nice fat book, the kind of book you wish was longer, not shorter, with tons of detail about Oxford in 1663 - even some experiments in Robert Boyle's elaboratory as well as boundless political intrigue. Of course, I wished there was more of the deciphering and experiments, but we do have the above mentioned trilogy for that. The story has an odd heretical conclusion that is really pretty interesting; I also might have liked even more on the religious sects. I suppose that's the advantage of using in-character narration, you're limited on how many discursive asides you can make without breaking role, or the temptation would definitely be to show off the research and you'd end up with several thousand pages instead of merely 685.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Atul Gawande, Complications: a surgeon's notes on an imperfect science. Another book for class, but I greatly enjoyed it. It's very straightforward, almost simplistic in delivery, but truly thoughtful and interesting. Good thought on medical decision making, mistakes, complications, balance between judgement and science, and the limits of knowledge. The perspective of a surgical resident is unique. The pieces on surgery and diagnosis were frightening and reassuring at the same time. Gawande's most original thinking was his honest analysis of medical training and the evasion that surrounds it. 1) training leads to mistakes, 2) training and practice are necessary to make good doctors, 3) The choices about who is practiced upon are partly chance, but mostly the disadvantaged are used for practice.
It's a hard book to categorize - it's similar to Oliver Sacks's, in that it's a series of case studies expanded and digressed upon, but without the intellectual and literary pretension (also perhaps not quite as nice to read; sacks writes like a novelist). It's better than most medically oriented nonfiction - more humble and chatty - think Stephen Jay Gould rather than the new england journal of medicine.