Category Archives: Historical Non-Fiction

Review: The Remedy by Thomas Goetz

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (April 3, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 159240751X
  • Source: Publisher

In the late 19th century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in Europe in the United States. Not only did doctors not know how to treat it, they didn’t even know how it originated. When Robert Koch, a young German doctor,  surmises that it is bacteria that causes the deadly disease, he launches upon a relentless mission to find a cure. As he announces to the world that a cure has been found, a doctor in by the name of Arthur Conan Doyle is sent to Berlin by a London newspaper to cover the presentation.  Although the two never meet,  Doyle employed many of the scientific methods as Koch,  not in the medical field but in his writing, eventually creating the character of Sherlock Holmes.

The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis goes far behind the relationships between these two men. As a matter of fact, a large majority of this book focuses on Koch, and rightly so. He brought to light medical practices that would be instrumental in the evolution of the field of medicine.  Goetz takes the reader on a journey through the evolution of medical practice, beginning with what seems like archaic lack of hand-washing and reusing of medical tools from one patient to another to more modern, more “sanitary” medical practices.  While the connections between Koch and Doyle are minimal,  it was fascinating to learn the impetus of Doyle’s fascination with the concept of deduction (taken directly from the scientific method) that he carried on into his literary escapades.

Filled to the brim with historical fact and detail The Remedy is the dream book for any fan of medical history, like myself. I was fascinated with just how far that we, as a society, have come in the medical field.  I’m quite obsessed with facts like this; after reading just a few chapters I’d gone through two packages of Post-it flags, the desire to highlight everything I read was out of control.   I began sharing far too much information about our society’s medical history with friends and loved ones (sorry boys!). While nonfiction, The Remedy has characteristics of a thriller, the reader following Koch and others as they try to get to the root of this horrific disease.

For these reasons, I would recommend this title to a wide range of readers. It is  a riveting history of not only a terrifying and deadly disease, but one of our society, and the truths we are able to embrace.  Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Blood Work-A Tale of Medicine & Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (March 21, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0393070557
  • Source: Publisher

In 1667 Jean Denis, a physician, transfused animal blood into the body of Antoine Mauroy, a mentally ill man.  Not once, but several times.  Days later Mauroy died & Denis was accused of murder.  At this time, a battle raged on regarding the concept of transfusions: proponents saw it as a way to cure deadly illnesses while opponents worried it was going against the laws of nature.

While Blood Work is a non-fiction book it reads like fiction. Using historically accurate details, Tucker reveals the true murderers, all the while educating the reader on struggle between science & society in 17th century Europe.

Early transfusion procedures did not involve human to human transfusion, but animal to human transfusions.  The concept of transfusions were tied to society’s obsessions with blood and its purpose within he human body.  Bloodletting was a cure-all for every ailment.  Bloodletting wasn’t performed by doctors, however, but instead barber-surgeons.  The same man who gave a shave & a haircut was also entrusted with this grisly task, as well as tooth pulling and trepanning (skull drilling).  They often traveled from home to home, using the same barbaric tools on every patient. It wasn’t until the 20th century that bloodletting became and outdated and unpopular means of treating illness

Providing this bit of detail as to the mindset of society in this century allows the reader to truly grasp how “naive” society was regarding the human body.  Further study into these “treatments” were prevented by religious beliefs and morals of the time.

The author also compares the actions of our forefathers to the current debate about stem cell research. How any illnesses can society’s doctors cure & prevent if given the opportunity to study this in more detail?

Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution is multiple books in one: a historical recollection of medical practices, a murder mystery, and a study of society’s influence on advancements in the medical field.  It’s quite the dense text; it’s not something one can sit down and read in one sitting.  The level of research Holly performed to write this book astounded me; my book is literally littered with Post-it flags marking passages. Additionally, the detailed period illustrations throughout the book really add depth to the story, providing visual evidence of the practices of the time.

This book isn’t one I would recommend to just anyone.  Frankly, considering it is a nonfiction book, it’s not one that I would normally read.  But the detail provided, the murder case in the background, really got me excited about this book.  Fans of history, of social cultures & issues, and yes, fans of crime fiction & mystery, will be drawn to this book. Highly recommended.

Guest Review: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Taking a little break from Fright Fest, I’m particularly excited to welcome a special guest reviewer to my blog today: my husband, John! John has reviewed here before and although it’s been a while, it’s been worth the wait!  So please welcome John!

  • Hardcover: 904 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; 1St Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1594202664
  • Source: Publisher

In “Washington:  A Life”, Ron Chernow illustrates the “Father” of our country with a complexity, beyond the venerated figure presented to most of us during our history classes of adolescence.  With great detail, Chernow presents the experiences of Washington and how they lead him on a seemingly providential path from a Frontiersman all the way to the Legend so many Americans revere today.

The chronicle begins with a brief review of Washington’s lineage and the familial tendency to expire at an early age.  Chernow recounts again and again, the misfortunes with health of family, loved ones and contemporaries and pointedly displays how Washington directly and the United States of America indirectly benefitted from those events.  From the early expiration of a beloved, older half-brother to the passing of Daniel Custis, the wealthy first husband of the future First Lady, he paints a portrait of an almost predestined journey to the role of iconic, founding father so associated with the birth of a nation.

This deference to circumstances should not be mistaken as blind worship of Washington or of providing another layer of grandeur to the lore of the first President.  Chernow does a fantastic job of piecing together historic events from letters, journals and newspaper articles of the day to demonstrate the hardships endured by Washington along the way.  His volatile temper, youthful exuberance and virtually inexhaustible ambition; all virtues, at times were greater liabilities than assets to a younger Washington that we rarely read in our history books.

Chernow continues by demonstrating Washington’s ability to side step personal obstacles including his inability to receive a formal education in England after the premature passing of his father.  He also illustrates numerous difficulties in his professional pursuits such as the inability to obtain a commission in the army of the British “regulars” that presumably has an influence on his ideals of citizenry and equality.

All of the usual fanfare, regarding the man after which States, cities and monuments are named is present.  Fortunately, Chernow spares us from the romanticized history that we all grew up with.  The common knowledge of Washington is generously sprinkled in to ground us and provide context.

“Washington: A Life” is a grand review the life of George Washington.  Chernow provides an engaging exploration of the journey through the experiences of a complex and flawed man, instead of focusing on the destination of the great figure Washington is known as today.  As I have, you will enjoy relearning about Washington as Chernow recounts HIS story without genuflecting to the rose colored glasses of history.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing John this opportunity to take part in this tour.  Please be sure to check out the other stops:

Tuesday, October 12th: American Creation

Wednesday, October 13th: A Reader’s Respite

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Review: A Gift from Brittany by Marjorie Price

 

 

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; Reprint edition (March 3, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 1592404340
  • Source: Author
  • Marjorie (Midge) Price always dreamed of painting in Paris.  In 1960 she did something that no twenty-eight year old woman should do: she bought a transatlantic ticket to Paris, alone.  Her family was up in arms, no respectful young lady travels alone, let alone across the Atlantic, but Midge was a dedicated artist and living in Paris was her dream.

    Shortly after she arrived, she met a native artist, Yves.  They fall in love and marry after a mere six months.  They have a daughter, and soon dream of owning a cottage in the country to get away from the hustle and bustle of Paris life.  Yves soon announces that he has found the perfect place.  It’s not just one cottage, but an entire hamlet.  Yves insists that Midge see this place for herself.  When she arrives, she sees a hamlet in ruins, requiring major repair.  But Yves insists on purchasing, ignoring her concerns.

    The restoration required is tremendous.  They are forced to live in another small home until the work is complete.  It’s definitely not the city life that Midge was used to.

    Midge soon meets their neighbors, and instantly forms a bond with Jeanne, a peasant woman nearing her seventies.  Jeanne takes her under her wing and begins to treat her as the daughter she never had.  When Ives’ personality begins to change, turning into a raging, abusive husband, Jeanne becomes her support system and helps her survive this turmoil in her life. Slowly, the city-girl side of Midge soon evaporates and she is transformed into a genuine “country” girl.

    A Gift from Brittany is a beautiful, yet sometimes heartbreaking, coming-of-age story.  Midge’s transformation takes place alongside the transformation of the hamlet, both are tremendous.  It is also a story of friendship, one that transforms culture and generations. Two women who at first glance having nothing in common form a bond that cannot be broken. Price’s writing itself is a form of artwork, it’s beauty and detailed descriptions paint a portrait of a woman’s life before your eyes.  I became completely wrapped up in the book within the first several pages. It is a profound piece of writing that will stay with you for some time.

    Here is what others are saying about A Gift from Brittany. Click on the link to their blog to read the entire review:

    Nicole from Linus’s Blanket states: “this was a wonderful glimpse into the lives of not only a strong and lively community of villagers, but of deep friendship, the lives and struggles of artists, and how one artist in particular has to find a way to claim her voice.”

    Amy from My Friend Amy states: “I loved the relationship between her (Midge) and Jeanne because I love knowing we can find friendship where we least expect it.We don’t really have to have any of the surface things in life in common to connect at the heart level and this book was a great reminder of that.

    Carey from The Tome Traveller’s Weblog states: “This is a story that is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking. Here is a peek at a European way of life that endured for centuries and then completely died out in a few decades. It is one of the best memoirs that I have ever read and I highly recommend it. It would be an excellent choice for book clubs.”

    Be sure to come back tomorrow to read a guest post by the author and enter to win copy of this outstanding book!