Archive for January, 2008

The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine-Watcher (book #22)

31 January 2008

Lewis Thomas, 1983. This is a sort of intellectual autobiography, or a biography of a science.

Thomas writes that his medical education at Harvard in the 1930s was almost “entirely descriptive”. The curriculum taught “the recognition of disease entities, their classification, their signs, symptoms, and laboratory manifestations, and how to make an accurate diagnosis. The treatment of disease was the most minor part of the curriculum, almost left out altogether. … On the wards of the great Boston teaching hospitals … it gradually dawned on us that we could do nothing to change the course of the great majority of the diseases we were so busy analyzing, that medicine, for all its façade as a learned profesion, was in real life a profoundly ignorant occupation.” As an intern he found that there were only a few illnesses which were actually treatable: lobar pneumonia (treated with serum, the type depending on the particular strain of pneumococci), diabetic coma (insulin), acute heart failure (bleeding, digitalis or oxygen) and the early stages of syphilis (treated with months or years of arsenicals, mercury and bismuth).

He describes another intern who “would arrive on his ward promptly at 6:45 each morning, stand in the doorway, flap his arms, and crow like a rooster”.

The notes section is “an excuse to insert some items of verse that I grew fond of long ago when I wrote them,” both light verse and a serious apocalyptic poem. Here’s the last verse of a poem in honour of Professor Leo Alexander, whose research involved using alcohol to produce brain lesions in pigeons:

A pigeon with religion, a pigeon with the shakes,
A little dove protesting love to twenty thousand snakes,
A pigeon having horrors of being hung on hooks,
Or being chased and then defaced by busts of Phillips Brooks.
Oh, Happy Lot! Oh, Joyous News! Oh, Science on the Brink!
The Mamillary Bodies are susceptible to drink!
The Region of the Thalamus delights in getting blotto,
And also the entire damned Medulla Oblongato!

A strange partly lost world of undergraduate light-heartedness, hospitals serving extremely poor people with “one exotic disease after another superimposed on mental illness, or … problems like thyroid disorders hidden away as the cause of the mental illness,” Board of Health officials touring tenements with “rats as big as cats, roaches as big as rats, and every kitchen jam-packed with small children trying to keep warm around a lighted stove”, and above all, an entirely male world, apart from “the solid underpinnings of culture”, passed along by women to children before the men appear with “the necessary ambiguities and abstractions”.

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How to be Idle (book #21)

28 January 2008

Tom Hodgkinson, 2004.

He quotes Cobbett on tea-drinking:

I view the tea-drinking as a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debuacher of youth, and a maker of misery for old age … [from it] succeeds a softness, an effeminacy, a seeking for the fire-side, a lurking in the bed, and, in short, all the characteristics of idleness

I like Proper Moments for Drinking Tea. Hodgkinson describes this as a poem, by the sixteenth-century writer Hsü Ts’eshu, but this article implies that it is a list of conditions rather than a poem (the section about it is near the end of the page). Other sites imply that the original text may not now exist, just that quoted by the twentieth-century populariser of Chinese literature, Lin Yutang.

Here are the list of conditions in which tea should not be drunk:

At work.
Watching a play.
Opening letters.
During big rain and snow.
At a long wine feast with a big party.
Going through documents.
On busy days.

Hodgkinson also quotes what must be an early twentieth-century writer (he doesn’t give references) on bank holidays at the seaside:

one indiscriminate moving mass of cabs, cars, carts and carriages;
horses, ponies, dogs, donkies, and boys;
men, women, children, and nurses;
the least and the biggest – babies and bathing machines …
little boys with spades;
nurses with babies;
mammas with sewing;
young ladies with novels;
young gentlemen with Byron, canes and eye-glasses;
older ones with newspapers, sticks and spectacles.

(Originally in prose format.) I’d like to know what the novels were.

A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs (book #20)

28 January 2008

Ellis Peters, 1965. I think this completes my EP re-reading for now.

The Piper on the Mountain (book #19)

27 January 2008

Ellis Peters, 1966. Her style would be easy to parody – key words are bright, intense, glowing. The setting is interesting in this one given her knowledge of and passion for Czechoslovakia.

This Pen For Hire (book #18)

22 January 2008

Laura Levine, 2002.

Knitting Bones (book #17)

22 January 2008

Monica Ferris, 2007. Interesting to see this series getting more complicated, though perhaps losing some of its charm.

Just Desserts (book #16)

22 January 2008

Mary Daheim. 1991.

Blink (book #15)

20 January 2008

2005. Malcolm Gladwell.

Search terms

19 January 2008

Someone got here through “odd deaths pictures”. I like it.

Silence in the Grave (book #14)

19 January 2008