• What We’re Reading: Mascot Theft, Spies and Memory

    Senior ophthalmologists share the best of what they’re reading this spring. Share what you’re reading and send your review to scope@aao.org.

    By Michael W. Brennan, MD
    The Golden Fleece by Tom Carhart and Wesley Clark

    It’s quite challenging for a first-time author to review a published adventure one personally enjoyed in planning, execution and joyous punishment … more than 50 years ago. In The Golden Fleece, a forever friend and West Point classmate of mine has artfully and humorously described the 1965 kidnapping of the U.S. Naval Academy mascot, Billy the Goat, by a band of West Point cadets and an unusual, most critical accomplice, my then fiancée, Helen.

    Author Carhart was the instigator and the ultimate motivator. He artfully intertwines four years of regimented cadet life with the sequence of absolutely unregulated events leading us to the ultimate capture of “Billy” from the guarded Marine compound near Annapolis and transport to temporary containment north of West Point.

    Tom also engages the reader with the unique timeline of the Vietnam conflict and relates many personal experiences of our classmates. As entering cadets in 1962, we only knew it was out of sight on the other side of the globe. By the time we were about to graduate, it was on our mind and we knew we would all soon be there. Tom provides personal insights into the lives of many classmates in the challenges of adjusting from a cloistered preparation for professionalism to the chaos of the battlefield.

    He integrates the unique drama of six crazy cadets capriciously seizing Navy’s prize animal inspiration. Unfortunately, despite inspiring our cadet colleagues and certainly the football team, Billy returned to Navy after a brief vacation in New York. The Nov. 1965 game ended in a 7-7 tie and Billy bleated at us the entire afternoon.

    The Golden Fleece alludes the escapade to the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts in Greek mythology. Those of us in the adventure will remember the collegiality, unusual professionalism of temporary “purloinment” and the eternal friendship of West Point classmates and their spouses. Thanks, Helen.

    By J. Kemper Campbell, MD  
    Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s by Joseph Jebelli

    Favorite books should always delight the reader, but equally valuable are the books which educate the reader. In Pursuit of Memory belongs in the latter category.

    Author Joseph Jebelli is a British neuroscientist of Iranian descent whose grandfather’s mental decline motivated him to enter the murky field of Alzheimer’s research. His passion to discover the cause and find a treatment for this devastating disease fuels his writing. His book will serve as an excellent primer for anyone dealing with the dreadful condition.

    Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist, first described his eponymous disease in 1906. Originally thought to involve only middle-aged females, it is presently defined as a type of dementia with progressive deterioration of the brain that has characteristic anatomical findings, multiple stages and symptoms that include memory loss. In its final stages, the brain can no longer support vital life functions, making Alzheimer’s the fourth leading cause of death in America.

    Politicians Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, entertainers Jimmy Stewart and Glen Campbell, and sports icons Dean Smith and Pat Summitt Head number among the famous examples of the disease’s relentless course. Experts estimate that one in three people living in today’s society will either develop or care for a loved one with the disease. Heredity, environmental factors like diet and the normal ageing of brain cells may all play a role in Alzheimer’s ever-increasing incidence.

    Jebelli’s emotional involvement with its victims and his skill as a writer make his descriptive vignettes of patients and their families difficult reading. Nevertheless, the book has a decidedly upbeat ultimate message.

    As a lifelong researcher in the field, Jebelli has literally traveled the globe to search out and summarize the latest and most promising information available. He carefully explores genetic, biochemical and epidemiologic theories on possible breakthroughs. He seems sure that, with enough worldwide attention and funding, we can conquer Alzheimer’s within a few decades.

    Meanwhile, those who wish to understand the scope of the task involved should read this book. 

    Kemper Campbell, MD, is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist whose grandmother and great grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease.

    By Thomas S. Harbin, MD, MBA
    The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage by David E. Hoffman

    In the Vietnam War, the Russian fighter jets flown by North Vietnamese pilots were superior to those of the United States; as a result, we lost one jet for every two we destroyed. Fast forward 20 years to the war in Kuwait. This time, our planes were superior to the Russian planes piloted by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi pilots. We downed close to 90 in that and two other skirmishes and lost none. How did this happen?

    The above facts were detailed in the epilogue to The Billion Dollar Spy. We gained our technological advantages by better pilot training and research but also in no small measure thanks to the espionage material Adolf Tolkachev gave the CIA.

    A Russian engineer in Moscow, Tolkachev worked in one of the research institutes that dealt with radar and other technologies. Disheartened by Russia since Stalin, he contacted the CIA’s Moscow station and began a multi-year program to supply the latest details on Russian military’s radar and other advanced technology.

    The U.S. military and other agencies lapped up his material and estimated that he saved the U.S. several billion dollars in research and development. They dubbed him the Billion Dollar Spy and treasured his information. Tolkachev worked with the CIA from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. After his betrayal from within the CIA, he was arrested by the KGB and executed.

    The book provides details of the Moscow scene in those days and the tradecraft necessary to run a spy under the nose of the KGB. Fascinating.

    By Samuel Masket, MD
    Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

    This remarkable tale chronicles the conception, construction and culmination of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Larson’s extensive research provides background details of the fair. On the heels of the Paris exposition during which Eiffel’s Tower was unveiled, the Chicago Fair’s success was of particular importance to U.S. pride.

    Larson’s account chronicles the trials and tribulations of construction snafus, budgetary constraints and political machinations. From these trying times, however, came many firsts: the Ferris wheel, Cracker Jack and Juicy Fruit chewing gum, to name just a few.

    The fair, its architects and its landscaper would be adequate subject material for reading entertainment, but Larson also provides a parallel plot. Chicago was a dangerous city, especially for young women who could easily turn up missing. Beyond that however, he unveils the first American serial killer, a handsome and charming swindler who used his guile to lure unsuspecting young women in order to take their wealth and, ultimately, their lives.

    For Erik Larson fans, this is another masterpiece of education and entertainment.