Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Woman Who Decided To Die: Challenges and Choices at the Edges of Medicine by Ronald Munson

Hardback:  Traci had the best room in the hospital, one that overlooked a stunning green lawn and a shimmering oval pond. She was young and vibrant.  But she also had a terrible disease.  Her leukemia had not responded to treatment, and how her doctor wanted her to try another round of chemotherapy.  This time, though, the odds of success were minimal.  Should she grasp at the straw offered or reject it, because of the burden more treatment would place on her husband and their two small children?

Whose decision was it anyway?

In The Woman Who Decided to Die (2009), novelist and bioethicist Ronald Munson takes readers to the very edges of medicine, where treatments fail and where people must cope with helplessness, mortality, dread and doubt.

Using dramatic personal narratives that place us shoulder to shoulder with doctors, patients, and caregivers as they wrestle with uncertainty and struggle to make decisions, Munson explores ten riveting case-based stories, told with a writer's eye for illuminating detail.

Munson suggests that the axiom "With great power comes great responsibility" is more than a slogan for a superhero.  Rather, it could be adopted as the basic rule guiding decision making in contemporary medicine.

The time when doctors were forced to stand helpless at bedside and let nature takes its cruelest course is long past.

Advances in technology have multiplied the powers of medicine so extensively that they force us to struggle with new and often gut-wrenching decisions.

How do we know when someone is dead and not just in a coma?

Should a child be removed from a respirator?

When is a patient not competent to make a decision?

Can parents donate the organs of their deceased adult daughter?

The cases Munson presents include a convicted felon who needs a new heart, a student who believes she is being controlled by invisible Agents, a stepfather asked to give a lobe of his liver to his stepson, and a psychiatrist-patient who prizes his autonomy until the end.

Raising fundamental questions about human relationships, this is an essential book about the very nature of life and death.

About the author:  Ronald Munson is a nationally acclaimed bioethicist who has worked with the National Institutes of Health (Eye and Cancer).  He is also a member of the Washington University School of Medicine's Human Research Protection Committee and an Associate Editor for ethics at the American Journal of Surgery.

Educated at Columbia (PhD) and Harvard (Postdoctoral Fellow), he is Professor of the Philosophy of Science and Medicine at the University of Missouri-St Louis.  He has been a Visiting Professor at the University of California-San Diego, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.

His books include the award-winning Raising the Dead:  Organ Transplants, Ethics and Society (2002) - named a "Best Book in Science and Medicine" by the American Library Association, Reasoning in Medicine (1998) with Daniel Albert and Michael Resnick and Intervention and Reflection:  Basic Issues in Medical Ethics (1983) - in print for thirty years and is the most widely used bioethics text in the United States.

Munson is also the author of the novels Nothing Human (1991), Fan Mail (1993) and Night Vision (1995).

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

Paperback:  The conscience of a people is their power. - John Dryden

1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty.  Who is the devil you know?

Is it your lying, cheating ex-husband?  Your sadistic high school gym teacher?  Your boss, who loves to humiliate people in meetings?

We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door (2005), clinical psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking 4 percent of ordinary people have an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is the complete absence of conscience.

They could be your colleague, your neighbour, even family.

And they can do literally anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt, shame, or remorse.

In The Sociopath Next Door, Dr Stout teaches you how to identify a sociopath and how to protect yourself from the ones who cross your path - and who may already be wreaking havoc in your life.

"According to the current bible of psychiatric labels, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV of the American Psychiatric Association, the clinical diagnosis of "antisocial personality disorder" should be considered when an individual possesses at least three of the following seven characteristics:

1)  failure to conform to social norms

2)  deceitfulness, manipulativeness

3)  impulsivity, failure to plan ahead

4)  irritability, aggressiveness

5)  reckless disregard for the safety of self or others

6)  consistent irresponsibility

7)  lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person.

Given the radically contradictory behavior we witness everyday, we must talk openly about both extremes of human personality and behavior.  To create a better world, we need to understand the nature of people who routinely act against the common good, and who do so with emotional impunity.  Only be seeking to discover the nature of ruthlessness can we find the many ways people can triumph over it, and only by discovering the dark can we make a genuine affirmation of the light.  It is my hope that this book will play some part in limiting the sociopath's destructive impact on our lives," wrote Dr Stout in her Introduction.

About the author:  Martha Stout, PhD - a clinical psychologist in private practice where she specializes in recovery from psychological trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidality - served on the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School for twenty-five years also served on the academic faculties of The New School for Social Research, the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, and Wellesley College.  She is also the author of The Myth of Sanity (2001) and The Paranoia Switch (2007).  She lives on Cape Ann in Massachusetts.

Definition: Clinomania

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum by Sarah Wise

The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another.  The Dead were, and are not.  Their place knows them no more, and is ours today.  Yet they were once as real as we, and we shall tomorrow be shadows like them. - G M Trevelyan

Paperback:  In 1887, government inspectors were sent to investigate the Old Nichol, a notorious slum on the boundary of Bethnal Green parish, where almost 6 000 inhabitants were crammed into thirty or so streets of rotting dwellings and where the mortality rate ran at nearly twice that of the rest of Bethnal Green.

Among much else they discovered that the decaying 100-year-old houses were some of the most lucrative properties in the capital for their absent slumlords, who included peers of the realm, local politicians and churchmen.

The Blackest Streets (2009) is set in a turbulent period of London's history when revolution was in the air;  award-winning historian Sarah Wise skilfully evokes the texture of life at that time.

She recovers the Old Nichol from the ruins of history and lays bare the social and political conditions that created and sustained this black hole which lay at the very heart of the Empire.

The Blackest Streets is a scholarly and intelligent investigation that shines a light on a turbulent period in nineteenth-century London and also traces the links between poor housing, poverty, criminality and on humanity itself.

About the author:  "I live in central London and as well as writing my non-fiction books, I am currently working on a screenplay of Inconvenient People. I lecture regularly on London history and the history of 19th-century mental health.

I also teach 19th-century social history via fiction.  Details of my courses can be found here: and type in course codes LN15101 or WR15118.

I grew up in West London and went to school in Wood Lane, White City. After graduation in English Literature, I worked as a journalist, mostly for arts, architecture and design titles, including the Guardian arts desk and Space magazine — the Guardian's design and architecture supplement.

I did a Master's degree in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck, University of London – jumping ship from Engish Literature to History. A chance discovery (a throwaway quote in a piece of Edwardian journalism) led to the writing of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London (2004). I followed this up with The Blackest Streets: the Life and Death of a Victorian Slum in 2008.
The Italian Boy won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. The Blackest Streets was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize for evocation of a location/landscape.

My third book, Inconvenient People, was shortlisted for the 2014 Wellcome Book Prize and was a book of the year in the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Guardian and Spectator."

Monday, 17 November 2014

Do Your Work, Then Step Back

The Woman I Wanted To Be by Diane von Furstenberg

Hardback:  In The Woman I Wanted To Be (2014), Diane von Furstenberg reflects with signature candour on the extraordinary journey of her life, in a story certain to inspire optimism and confidence in readers of all ages.

After exploring her roots in Belgium as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she recounts her glamorous travels across Europe as a young, jet-set princess and evokes the freedom of '70s era New York, from Fifth Avenue to Studio 54.

She tells of adventures in Bali and Paris, finding peace in Connecticut, and all that she learned about love, beauty and ageing along the way.

She also revisits the three phases of her business life:  living The American Dream as a fashion tycoon in the '70s, re-emerging after several setbacks as The Comeback Kid in the '90s and finally, the phase she living as she writes, The New Era, in which she works to cement her professional and philanthropic efforts into a lasting legacy.

Reading The Woman I Wanted To Be is like having an intimate conversation with a modern-day muse who is generous with her wisdom and humour.

What emerges is a bold and honest portrait of a woman who was determined to carve an identity of her own and, having achieved that goal, is empowering others to do the same.

About the author:  Diane von Furstenberg first entered the fashion world in 1972 with a suitcase full of jersey dresses.  Two years later, she created the wrap dress, which came to symbolize power and independence for an entire generation of women.

By 1976, she had sold more than a million of the dresses and was featured on the cover of Newsweek.  After a hiatus from fashion, Diane relaunched the iconic dress that started it all in 1997, reestablishing her company as the global luxury lifestyle brand that it is today.  DVF is now sold in over fifty-five countries.

In 2005, Diane received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) for her impact on fashion, and one year later was elected the CFDA's president, an office she continues to hold.  Director of the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, she is an active philanthropist and supporter of emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs.

In 2012, Diane was named the most powerful woman in fashion by Forbes magazine.

As of 2014, she is listed as the sixty-eighth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes and her company has eighty-five stores worldwide.

She is also the author of Diane:  A Signature Life (2009) and Diane von Furstenberg's Book of Beauty:  How to Become a More Attractive, Confident, and Sensual Woman (1979).

Keep Reading and Be Amazed

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Rita Nitz Story: A Life Without Parole (Non-fiction) by Larry L Franklin

Hardback:  The April 1988 murder and decapitation of twenty-three-year-old Michael Miley in rural southern Illinois horrified and enraged local residents and law enforcement officials, some of whom suspected the homicide was a hate crime.

The Rita Nitz Story:  A Life Without Parole (2005) is an in-depth personal investigation into Miley's murder, for which Rita Nitz was sentenced to life in prison as an accomplice.

Born in 1959, Rita was thirty when she was sentenced in 1989.  Her husband, Richard Nitz, was convicted of the murder.  Detailing the crime and its aftermath, Larry L Franklin uncovers a disturbing set of facts that illuminate a possible miscarriage of justice.

Was Rita Nitz involved in the murder of Michael Miley?  Franklin doesn't purport her guilt or her innocence but instead details the plight of a troubled woman who was a victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence at the hands of family members and spouses and who may also have been a victim of inadequate legal representation and a judicial system more interested in delivering the maximal punishment than in serving justice.

In a journey that included consultations with experts in prosecutorial conduct, jury psychology, and forensic evidence, Franklin discovered details that were withheld from the jury and the public during the trial in 1989.

Drawing on numerous conversations with Rita at the Dwight Correctional Center in Illinois, Franklin divulges the story of Rita's tumultous youth and her three problematic marriages.  He shows her to be a battered woman who didn't fully understand the circumstances and behavior that led to her being implicated in such a hideous crime and who lacked the financial resources and emotional strength to navigate the legal tangle that entrapped her.

Franklin thoroughly examines the fifteen-day trial that led to the conviction of Rita Nitz.  Using the trial transcript, he reconstructs the testimony of key witnesses, the actions and reactions of the judge and jury, and the inadequate defense that left jury members speculating whether the verdict might have been different if the attorneys had been reversed.

He also suggests other theories and names possible perpetrators involved in the murder that further imply shoddy police work and a tainted criminal investigation.

The Rita Nitz Story:  A Life Without Parole illustrates that Rita's conviction was largely due to spurious testimony and woefully inadequate legal counsel and did not rely on any forensic evidence to support the charges.

Franklin also points out the disparity in justice between Rita and Richard, who is up for parole in less than twenty years, while Rita remains sentenced to life without parole.

In attempting to reach the truth about Miley's murder, Franklin highlights abuses in the Illinois correctional system and disparities between the treatment of male and female convicts, sketching a blueprint that could improve law enforcement and justice in rural Illinois.

This should be required reading for all law, criminology, and sociology students, and indeed for anyone who may someday serve on a murder trial jury.

This is a story that must be heard.

About the author:  Larry L Franklin grew up in Illinois and received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Illinois, a master of music degree from Southern Illinois University, and a master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Hardback:  London 1862.

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a baby farmer, who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own.  Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves - fingersmiths - for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives - Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue:  If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance.  Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of - passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan.  Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways but no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

For from the moment she draws breath, Sue's fate is linked to that of another orphan growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles away.

From the celebrated author of Tipping the Velvet (1998) and Affinity (1999) - a modern-day Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins - comes an extraordinary, ingenious tale of fraud, insanity and secrets.

About the author:  Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966.  She has a PhD in English Literature and has been an associate lecturer with the Open University.  She has won the Somerset Maugham Award and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and twice been shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Award.  She lives in London.

Fingersmith (2002) is her third novel and has been nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction (Best Novel) and the Man Booker Prize (Best Novel).

Rating:  5/5

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Bogeyman by Steve Jackson

Paperback:  For years, he'd stalked elementary schools and playgrounds looking for young girls from low-income neighbourhoods to abduct, rape and murder.  He thought of them as "throwaway kids" - hardly missed, and soon forgotten, except by those who loved them.  He was every parent's worst nightmare.  The bogeyman they warned their children about, the fiend who lurked in the shadows outside of bedroom windows.

A WildBlue Press original true crime story from the New York Times bestselling author of Monster (2013) and No Stone Unturned (2002), Bogeyman (2014) describes in dramatic detail and with heart-rending poignancy the efforts of tenacious Texas lawmen to solve the cold case murders of three little girls and hold their killer, David E Penton, one of the most horrific serial child-killers in US history, accountable for his horrific crimes.

Penton remains behind bars in Ohio.  He is up for parole in 2027, but if it is granted, he would be extradited to Texas to serve time for the three murders.

About the author:  Learn more about Steve Jackson and his books here.