• Book Reviews: Summer Reading


    This column is devoted to reviews and recommendations of books that members of the SO committee and some readers have enjoyed. Enjoy and engage with us by submitting your ideas to scope@aao.org.

    J. Kemper Campbell, MD
    "Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World" by Benjamin Reiss
    Author Reiss, an English professor at Emory University, postulates that our national preoccupation with obtaining at least six hours of uninterrupted slumber may be the creation of a billion dollar "sleep industry." He makes interesting points interspersed by literary quotes from sources as diverse as Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau and Kanye West along with appropriate historical references to sleeping customs. The book deserves to be on the bedside stand of all those who are losing sleep about losing sleep.  


    Gregory P. Kwasny, MD
    The Anatomist
    by Bill Hayes
    The Anatomist by Bill Hayes was published in 2008. It is the story of Henry Gray’s lifetime study of anatomy, but much, much more. Mr. Hayes enrolls as a first-year anatomy student, to better understand the task that Henry Gray had to undertake to publish his book. I found his story fascinating, considering that Gray’s Anatomy has never been out of print. Another lesser known fact is that most of the original illustrations were done not by Gray, but by Henry Van dyke Carter, his younger associate at St. George’s Hospital in London. The Anatomist is almost a story more about Carter than Gray. I hope you will find it a worthwhile read.

    George E. Garcia, MD
    The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler
    by Thomas Hager
    A well-written and entertaining history of the struggle to feed an increasing world population and some unintended consequences. It starts with significant concerns about the future of the world in the 17th and 18th centuries because of the depletion of nitrogen sources for fertilization of crops, how the problem was solved initially and the unintended consequences of the ultimate solution in the 20th century.

    M. Bruce Shields, MD
    All the Light We Cannot See
    by Anthony Doerr
    This is one of the most compelling World War II novels I have read. In a Nazi occupied, walled citadel by the sea, a young French girl, who lost her sight at age six, meets a young German soldier, who was drawn into the Hitler Youth because of his interest in and ability with radios. Through a series of intense (and often heart-stopping) scenarios, the two-young people finally come face to face, and we are left with the time-honored truth that, despite our physical and cultural differences, we are really all the same.

    Gwen Sterns, MD
    The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius; by Gail Saltz, MD
    The author, a clinical psychiatrist, offers compelling profiles of patients with “disabilities” that she has treated — dyslexia, ADD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, autism — to demonstrate how deficits in certain areas of the brain are directly associated with the potential for great talent. Bolstered by scientific research, and accounts of historical geniuses, Dr. Saltz argues that individuals with these conditions have not just conquered their brain “differences,” but flourished because of them, exhibiting creative, artistic and unusual cognitive abilities.” The Power of Different” shows that the unique wiring of the brain in individuals with learning disabilities can be a source of strength and productivity.  For anyone with a friend or family member who is struggling with these problems, the book is both enlightening and inspiring.

    Alfredo A. Sadun, MD, PhD
    Alexander Hamilton:  First Architect of the American Government
    by Michael W. Simmons
    With the great popularity of the play, Hamilton, there is a renewed interest in our founding fathers in general and with Alexander Hamilton, in particular. This recent (2016) biography exploits that. And, to be clear, Simmons’ book is not as famous or deep as the work of Chernow that largely inspired the play. But Simmons does do a good job giving us a sense of Hamilton the boy who becomes the man and then the founding father. We begin with Hamilton orphaned and without resources, who manages, by way of his excellent writing (evidenced when he published a personal report on the terrifying effects of a hurricane) to make his way to King’s College/Columbia University on scholarship. But it was the Revolutionary War that gave Hamilton the opportunity to shine, especially to his commander-in-chief, George Washington.  Washington came to trust Hamilton, as a brave soldier, as a leader, as an administrator and, ultimately as an architect of our government. He wrote most of The Federalist Papers which provided an interpretation of the constitution that called for a strong central government and the authority to assume states' debts, and create the Bank of the United States. Hamilton became the most powerful member of Washington’s presidential cabinet and this earned him the enmity of his political contemporaries, including Adams, Jefferson and, of course, Aaron Burr who shot and killed him in a duel. Hamilton was scandalous. But he also was a great patriot and his love and devotion to Washington and our country leaves us in admiration of his vision. 

    Thomas Harbin, MD, MBA
    The Gene
    by Siddhartha Mutherjee
    What does a medical book explaining the gene have to do with a science fiction book set in 2040?  More than you would think. First, The Gene. For those of us seniors whose medical school introduction to genetics was pretty basic and who may not have kept up with all the advances, this book is invaluable. The author provides not only up-to-date medical and scientific material about genetics, but the history of how our knowledge advanced. News to me is the fact that our country and Europe set the stage for the Nazi atrocities by our embrace in the 1920’s and '30s of eugenics- positive, in which attempts are made to combine good sets of genes, and shamefully- negative, in which “undesirable” people are cordoned off from society in camps and institutions or worse, sterilized. Our country has a sorry history in this area. The last part of the book discusses the ethics of genetic manipulation which the CRISPR technology makes possible and sets the stage for the coming debates on augmentation, gene deletion and substitution and the “new eugenics.”

    Nexus by Ramez Naam
    In Nexus, Ramez Naan concocts a future with augmented humans, trans humans and post humans, conditions and possibilities hinted at in The Gene. The wars between us regular humans and the augmented ones are skillfully and imaginatively presented in a page turner.  The theme of how to deal with progress in these technologies greatly expands the issues introduced by Mutherjee.  Nexus is the first of a trilogy and is followed by Crux and then Apex. I am well into Apex and have enjoyed all three.

    This duo will allow you to read future editorial and news pages with much more understanding.