Not finished

Two books recently that I started but just couldn’t finish before they were due back at the library:

joe kennedyThe Patriarch, a Joseph P. Kennedy Biography, by David Nasaw, was interesting, but daunting at 787 pages.

I learned that his grandfather had escaped from the Irish potato famine, that his father was into Boston politics, one of the Irish Catholics active in the Democratic Party.  Joe went to Harvard, but was not taken into any of the banking firms he was interested in, excluded by upper-class Boston Brahmins, so he bought into his father’s bank.   I read through WWI (when he was assistant general manager of Bethlehem Steel), a few of his affairs, his marriage to Rose, the birth of Joe Jr, Jack, and Rosemary, his involvement in the stock market and, after Prohibition, alcohol distribution.  But, alas, I couldn’t get through WWII.   Here is a good article from the Times:  Maybe someday when I have nothing else to read I’ll check it out again.

Emperor of All MaladiesThe Emperor of All Maladies, a history of cancer and its treatment, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which is much more interesting than you’d figure.  But at 592 pages, it was also “heavy” reading.  (These are not paperbacks, and they’re hard to hold up in bed!  My mother’s definition of “heavy” reading.)

After an introduction to his cancer patients, Mukherjee starts with breast cancer written up 2700 years ago, in hieroglyphics.  Then there’s that dreadful stuff about the four Humors and bleeding the patients, which went on for 2,000 years.  I got through the supremacy of the surgeons, who would cut out more and more to stop a cancer from spreading, which starts in the 20th century.  Picture not only a breast removed, but everything around, so that there was not enough muscle tissue for a woman to raise her arm.

…an extraordinarily morbid, disfiguring procedure in which surgeons removed the breast, the pectoral muscles, the axillary nodes, the chest wall and occasionally the ribs, parts of the sternum, the clavicle and the lymph nodes inside the chest.

And to chemo, a big breakthrough.  But the book defeated me.  (And I finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which you have no doubt heard about, and where every other chapter is infused with medical terminology.  And Cutting for Stone – a novel written by Ethiopian-born medical doctor and author Abraham Verghese- which is mostly about doctors, the father and his sons, and is also replete with medical terms.  Also, more about vaginal fistulas than I probably wanted to know, because one of the sons became a specialist, and it is quite a problem in Africa.  I did learn a bit about Ethiopia – very interesting.)


Here are two dynamite books which I have just finished:

brain on fireBrain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan, a riveting book, the true story of the reporter’s “Month of Madness” caused by anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a rare autoimmune disease that can attack the brain.  Only 250 pages.  Really a page-turner.  (Really!)

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, also nonfiction, this recommended by Adam Johnson, who wrote The Orphan Master’s Son, and whose talk at U of A I attended1.  Only 284 pages before the Epilogue and Notes.  korea at nightDemick interviewed six people who escaped from North Korea, who tell incredible (= barely credible – if someone hadn’t told you it was true you wouldn’t believe it) stories of their lives under Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.  A lot of it is depressing, but I think important to know.  Truth is stranger than fiction.  This is even stranger than 1984.  This satellite photo of North and South Korea by night says a lot.  (The one dot of light in North Korea is, of course, Pyongyang.)


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2 Responses to “Books”

  1. Price Says:

    The only thing more difficult than reading the “Emperor of all Maladies” is listening to it (download from

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