Sunday, October 19, 2014

RatCave Book Club—10/19/2014

It's been a while. I've read dozens of books. Where to begin? Things have gotten a bit moldy...

Penicillin: Triumph And Tragedy—Robert Bud (2007)
" American physician made the telling comment, reported by sociologists in 1966, 'Nowadays you give a shot of penicillin for pneumonia and cure the patient but that's no credit to the doctor; all credit goes to the drug. An old doctor wouldn't have had so many patients; he would have sat at the patient's bedside until the fever broke.' Within a few lines he had captured the shift away from the world of the caring old-style physician to a new style drug-centered system. At the extreme, doctors were beginning to seem more or less interchangeable agencies by which canny customers obtained a desired medicine."
The advent of antibiotics during WWII led in the 1950s to a boom the likes of which pharmaceutical manufacturers could never have dreamed of. By the end of that decade there were attempts to reign in the gold rush mentality driving the business. But consumers knew what they wanted: more miracle drugs. Today earnings are better than ever, thanks to deregulation that allowed direct marketing to patients.

Thanks to the miracle of antibiotics old standards of hygiene slipped, making dependence inevitable. While some fixated on their horror of sexual promiscuity, the decline in quality of care in hospitals was far more real.

By the mid-Sixties antibiotics were being used to fatten farm animals (what could possibly go wrong?). Attempts to deal with that danger met with failure in the face of powerful lobbies and insufficient data. Today the rhetoric from industry is as strident as ever. Check out this expert opinion:
"About a third of livestock antibiotics used today are not used at all in human medicine."
Wow, I feel so much better knowing that "about" two-thirds of livestock antibiotics are used in human medicine. About the same portion of NRA members who favor tougher gun control laws. As it turns out MSRAs have moved from livestock to humans. What are these people smoking?

All in all a comprehensive, balanced history. The book, I mean. Next.

The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story Of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army—Stephan Talty (2009)

An entertaining account of Napoléon's great disaster (Waterloo? 'Twas but a scratch). Talty's twist in retelling such an perennial tale is to pay close attention to the effects of infectious disease on la Grande Armée. One gets the impression that Napoléon might have scared the Tsar into submission before he could muster more troops, of which Russia had an enormous supply, if only it hadn't been for Rickettsia, Shigella et al.

I've been told he would have never succeeded under any realistic circumstances. May well be. As it happens it was a death march. Marchons, marchons.

Bonus points for the decent maps. I hate it when there are no maps.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession—Allison Hoover Bartlett (2010)

John Charles Gilkey is a man with a problem. No, make that several problems. He likes old books, valuable old books. He enjoys owning them. He tells himself that he deserves to own them, that the people he stole them from deserved to be robbed by him. And possessing them makes him feel like he's somebody. A man of if not wealth then certainly taste. He steals books to feel like the man that he will never be.

The author enters Gilkey's world and almost immediately finds herself fascinated and appalled. She becomes part of her own story as she listens to Gilkey tell his, in good time. She watches him case stores that he's stolen from before and talks to dealers who have been burned by him. And she tries to fathom this complex but all too simple man.

Here is a video of the author on BookTV.

There is a list of all my Book Club posts here.