Friday, December 08, 2006

Books on the Nightstand

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson.

"On August 28, 1854, working-class Londoner Sarah Lewis tossed a bucket of soiled water into the cesspool of her squalid apartment building and triggered the deadliest outbreak of cholera in the city's history….Johnson builds the story around physician John Snow, (pioneering developer of surgical anesthesia) who posited the then radical theory that cholera was spread through contaminated water rather than through miasma, or smells in the air. Against considerable resistance from the medical and bureaucratic establishment, Snow persisted and, with hard work and groundbreaking research, helped to bring about a fundamental change in our understanding of disease and its spread.”

Max bought me this for my birthday and it’s great. Yes, I'm the kind of girl who gets excited about the history of cholera. Kinky, I know.

Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics,
by Eleanor Herman.
“In this follow-up to her bestselling Sex with Kings, Eleanor Herman reveals the truth about what goes on behind the closed door of a queen's boudoir. Impeccably researched, filled with page-turning romance, passion, and scandal, Sex with the Queen explores the scintillating sexual lives of some of our most beloved and infamous female rulers."
The history of royal sex lives sounds juicier to you? It is. And now I know that Catherine The Great did not die while having sex with a horse. (She was apparently on the toilet, which you may or may not think is more dignified.) Anyway, it's fun to read.

Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy, by Lindsay Moran.
"When Harvard grad Moran entered CIA training in her late 20s, her expectations had more to do with Harriet the Spy and James Bond than with drudge work or service; the reality, as she represents it in this memoir of her training and case work, was a sexist environment filled with career-oriented, shallow people….Though Moran is a likable spy, the wait for significant insights or breakthroughs goes mostly unrewarded for writer and reader alike.”

I don't recommend this - I was rather underwhelmed. The beginning is sort of interesting, as she describes the training, but it loses juice quickly and just sort trails off.

Books I want but haven't got yet...

The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery, by D.T. Max
Being a chronic insomniac myself (Thank god for Ambien) I’m quite interested to read this. (Although no, I don't think I have prion disease.)
“In 1765, Venetian doctors were stumped by the death of a man who had suffered from insomnia for more than a year and spent his final months paralyzed by exhaustion. Over the next two centuries, many of his descendants would develop similarly fatal symptoms. Finally, in the early 1990s, their disease was recognized as a rare genetic form of prion disease... Looking at prion disease in general, Max doubles back to the English mad-cow epidemic of the 1990s, retracing established backstories among New Guinea aboriginals and European sheep herds. There's enough fascinating material—in particular, a theory suggesting that early humans were nearly wiped out by a plague spread by cannibalism—to keep readers engaged, but they're likely to want still more about the genuinely captivating family drama.”

The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero, by William Kalush, Larry Sloman.
Kalush and Sloman appear to have raked through every known Houdini archive to produce the most comprehensive and controversial biography ever written about the man, with its contention that he was a spy who may have been murdered by a cult."
I can’t wait to get this one! Houdini was such a fascinating person, and I'm very interested in stuff about 18th and 19th century spiritualism.

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