Why are Orangutans Orange? edited by Mick O’Hare (Pegasus Books, 2012) is subtitled “Science questions in pictures.” I am not a science person, but I was intrigued by the premise that this would be a simple and quick collection of answers to common science questions.
In the end, I was a bit disappointed. Although it did provide simple and clear answers for the most part, it was not organized well and felt a bit smacked together. I was surprised to find that it was a collection of questions based on pictures sent in by readers of a column. Many had poor quality photographs attached to their questions too. The answers came from scientists who read the column. Thus, each “answer” was written by someone different. The questions likewise were random and disorganized.
While it was a quick read and somewhat interesting, the random organization and miscellaneous feel to the questions and answers did not make it something I highly enjoyed. I’m glad I read it, because it did not require much for me, but I am not overly interested in seeking out more volumes in the series of science questions and answers.
Note: I read a digital review copy from the publisher for review consideration via netgalley.com
Henrietta Lacks died at age 31, her body racked with cancerous tumors growing out of control. She was a poor black woman in the public ward of Johns Hopkins hospital in 1951, a person who hid her intense pain from her family and friends as long as she could. Her story is one that could have been forgotten, if not for the fact that the cells taken from her cancerous tumors transformed science, research, and medicine.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a complex book. At times it is a biography of Henrietta Lacks and her family, from the early years of the century until today. At times it is a science volume, explaining the ways in which HeLa cells have contributed to cancer research, immunization research, and so forth. At times it is a memoir of one persistent researcher looking for answers. In all aspects, it’s a look at the history of race relations in America, especially in terms of medical care and privacy. I found it so fascinating, I did not want to stop reading, in my curiosity of what could possibly happen next.
The Immortal Life opens up plenty of issues for discussion: how would you feel about your cells being kept alive? What if it would further science? How would you feel about your deceased mother’s medical history then being shared with the medical community and the world without your permission? How would this story be different if Henrietta Lacks was not a poor black woman? How would her legacy be different if she were not who she was? What right did Rebecca Skloot have to open up her family’s past to a biography of this magnitude? What do you think of the ethical, moral, and cultural implications of Henrietta’s story?
Now that I have finished, I have yet more questions. I look forward to having a book club discussion about this some day. There so much in there to ponder, even including the presence of the narrator, Ms Rebecca Skloot. Wasn’t her actions just as morally and ethically questionable as the medical professionals? She pester the Lacks’ family in order to get them to tell her their story. It seems pretty clear that they did not want to talk to her, and only her persistence over years made it possible for her to write the story. Never the less, Henrietta Lacks is one of those well written nonfiction books that leaves me wanting more. Well done and highly recommended!
When I saw Faces from the Past on the Netgalley catelogy, I was excited, since my recent read about forensic anthropology was such a delightful read for me. My son and I have been studying early American history as well, so it fits in well with my current interests. Once again, I have to say how much I love homeschooling: as I teach my son kindergarten-level history, I am enjoying delving much deeper in to the history of my country.
Faces from the Past: Forgotten People of North America by James M. Deen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2012) is another middle grade or young adult nonfiction look at American history by forensic analyzation of the bones that remain behind after hundreds of years. Mr Deen goes much farther back than Sally Walker did: he begins with remains found that are probably 15,000 years old, some of the oldest American bones found. I loved how his book provided examples of remains from all over the country, from a shipwrecked French sailor from La Salle’s expedition found off the coast of what is now Texas (1600s) to the “ordinary” women buried in Albany, New York.
Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker (Carolrhoda, 2009) is about what we can learn about a few early American settlers from their bones and burial. It is both a lesson in very early American history as well as a scientific exploration of forensic anthropology. Since I’m studying Jamestown this week with my son and since I’m a big fan of the television show Bones for it’s insight into forensic anthropology, I really enjoyed Written in Bone. Walker approaches her subject with obvious passion, clear language, and well done scientific explanations, all for a young adult audience. She teaches without belittling her audience, a difficult task to do when she’s writing for youth as young as 12 and as old as any adult. (more…)
In Frankenstein (originally published January 1818), Mary Shelley questions what makes one human, ultimately questioning the meaning of life. When Dr. Victor Frankenstein imbues his cadaverous monster with life, he has become a God-like creator, and his monster, a gigantic being with the ability to feel all emotions and use all of his senses, is his Adam.
Like Adam, Frankenstein’s creation must learn right and wrong. He also desires a mate so he will not be lonely. Unlike Adam, the creation has no creator guiding him: Frankenstein, and all other humans who see the creation, consider him a monster, simply because he is ugly. I don’t blame them: he was eight-feet tall and was created from cadavers, butcher’s meat, and scavenged body parts. The monster wasn’t exactly someone you’d want to sit across from at dinner.
Frankenstein was nothing like I imagined. Both Frankenstein and his monster were complex characters with multiple facets to them. I believed it would be a superficial horror story, with a monster tormenting the world.