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The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

Early 19th-century London still had quite a few advances to make, including a safe and efficient waste management system. This turned into a deadly problem when, in 1854, the Broad Street pump began dispensing cholera with its water supply. It took eight days before the source of the cholera was suspected and access to the pump was removed, but it took even longer before public health and government officials were willing to let go of the idea that the outbreak was a result of "miasma"--an airborne pathogen--and accept the fact that water can transmit diseases as well. By the end of this disaster, over 600 people had died. This exciting, terrifying, and wonderfully disgusting book follows the crusade of Dr. John Snow and the Reverend Henry Whitehead, which would ultimately change the way we view health and disease, urban planning, the environment, and even biological and nuclear warfare.

I had so much fun listening to The Ghost Map. To be sure, it is not for the squeamish--the details of living conditions in London and the ways in which cholera destroys the body will make you think twice every time you turn on the faucet (and thank MSD each time as well). But if you're like me and can revel in the putrescence and have a fascination with epidemiology, you will find a thoroughly enjoyable and eye-opening blend of history, biology, and sociology. Highly recommended!

Number of Pages: 
299

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

If you feel like you can't remember anything anymore...where you put your keys, what you did over the weekend, then Still Alice will either terrify you or soothe your troubled mind. Alice is a tenured professor at Harvard University. She frequently travels and gives lectures as well as teaching at the University. One day she is out running and finds herself in a familiar neighborhood, one that she frequents often, but she can't remember how to get home. She is in a panic, because her brain won't put the pieces together for her. That is the first sign that something is wrong. She is then diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease.

What follows is Alice's daily struggle with the disease. I liked how Genova used Alice's perspective to tell the story of her illness. It is especially poignant with this kind of disease, that alters you so much. It also gives you a greater sense of empathy for the caregivers and acquaintances and how they treat someone who is suffering from life changing illness. Do you treat them differently? Do you talk about it at all? Do you ignore it because it is too painful to confront?

Number of Pages: 
293

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Over half a century ago, Henrietta Lacks developed an aggressive form of cervical cancer which quickly took her life. Unbeknownst to her, her doctors at Johns Hopkins had taken a sample of her cells, now known as HeLa cells, which have survived long past her death, have contributed to important discoveries and treatments in medicine, and are sold by the billions. Yet Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave, and her family has received no compensation (indeed, they didn't even find out that her cells were so widely used until long after her death). In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot weaves a compelling and tragic story of Lacks' life and the life of her cells; the efforts made by her family to come to terms with a legacy over which they have no control; and the complicated history of bioethics, including other cases of cell harvesting and the horrific practice of medical experimentation on African Americans.

I found this a fascinating read from beginning to end. While the book begins with Henrietta's life, much of it is devoted to following her daughter Deborah as she strives to learn what happened to her mother (whom she lost a very young age) and sister. Skloot intersperses the text with a lot of information about cancer, research, and bioethics, which sheds more light on Deborah's journey. It's not always easy to find a non-fiction book that is gripping the whole way through, but this book overwhelmingly succeeds. It is guaranteed to make you think.

Number of Pages: 
369

Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks

Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks

I picked up Human Body Theater at Lindsay's recommendation and was blown away. This graphic novel is presented as a stage show performed by "Bones" - the skeleton host. Bones proceeds to give a thorough tour and explanation of the human body and all its systems. My curious girls are fascinated by this book and have grasped many tricky concepts thanks to the brilliant illustrations by Wicks. I'd recommend this to fans of graphic novels or people interested in the human body of any age!

Number of Pages: 
233

It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (20th Anniversary Edition); written by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley

It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (20th Anniversary Edition); written by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley

This 20th anniversary edition of Robie Harris’s classic text on human sexuality includes much of the same content from its landmark publication in 1994 and now includes modern concerns surrounding safety in the digital world as well as updates on STDs and STIs. Harris presents a balanced view of puberty, sexual development, reproduction, and awareness in a way that is engaging and accessible to children ages “10 & up” (as stated on the cover). Not only are the clinical facts given surrounding these issues, but Harris is inclusive of the LGBT community and alternative families and lifestyles and provides reasoning other groups of people might have for or against certain practices. I appreciated how the correct terminology was used while also including occasional popular slang, but always differentiating between the two. Michael Emberley’s illustrations feature diverse images of people, and he also provides running commentary from Bird and Bee, each feeling excited and nervous, respectively, about the content of the book. It’s Perfectly Normal is an invaluable reference that will undoubtedly help many children and adults learn about, and how to talk about, many of the issues faced while growing up.

Number of Pages: 
98

Human Body Theater: A Non-fiction Revue by Maris Wicks

Human Body Theater: A Non-fiction Revue by Maris Wicks

Learning about human anatomy is enormously delightful in this new graphic novel. Punning on the idea of an operating theater, a skeleton uses a stage perforance as it walks the reader through the various systems of the body, explaining how our bodies work, how to keep them healthy, and the reasons behind many ailments, disabilities, and reactions. She even covers the reproductive system with panache, keeping the discussion whimsical yet clinical.

Wicks makes the discussion of the human body accessible, and her illustrations are bright and relatively accurate for a very cartoonish style (my favorite is the tongue with legs!). She also includes a glossary and suggested further reading at the end. There is a lot of information packed in here--children in the upper grades of grade school into middle school will get the most out of this comic. Be sure to put this into the hands of all your budding young scientists and medical doctors!

Number of Pages: 
233

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World; by Tracy Kidder

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Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World; by Tracy Kidder

Tracy Kidder presents the life thus far of Paul Farmer, a Harvard-trained, world-traveling infectious disease expert. From Haiti to Peru, Russia to Cuba and beyond, Farmer has dedicated his life to bringing modern medicine to third-world citizens in effort to stanch the spread of often-curable infectious diseases that plague these countries. Farmer is a charismatic leader determined not to let bureaucracy stand in his way. In his "spare time," he co-founds Partners in Health and works with the World Health Organization to bring medicine and proper care to disadvantaged populations. Kidder follows Farmer's life from his unconventional upbringing to his hospital in rural Haiti and beyond, while also covering the philosophical and financial obstacles occurring as he tries to make progress. This is an inspirational portrait of a man who knows life is bigger than himself.

Number of Pages: 
317

Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea

Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea

Run Like a Mother's subtitle reads, "how to get moving-- and not lose your job, family, or sanity," and indeed the focus is on how to fit running into the already busy life of a mother.  However, the authors cover a little bit of everything in this book, plus a big dose of heartwarming and funny stories.  I loved this book in a big way and how it made me feel a bit like part of a big community of mother runners even though running is basically a solo activity. 

train like a motherTrain Like a Mother follows up with more specific information on racing different distances and detailed training plans for each distance.  There is a "finish it" and an "own it" plan each for 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon distances.  In addition, there is more information on topics like nutrition and strength training, and more great stories and anecdotes.

The authors have developed a big social media following (website, Facebook, Twitter, podcast, etc) and I was a bit hesitant to jump on some trendy mother-runner bandwagon.  But the authors are so down-to-earth and relatable and likable that it's easy to see why they are so popular.

Number of Pages: 
423

Eat & run : my unlikely journey to ultramarathon greatness by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman

Eat & run : my unlikely journey to ultramarathon greatness by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman

Scott Jurek is well known in the community of ultrarunners and has won many races and set many records.  This was an interesting history of his life and look at many of the key races he has run and won.  He also talked quite a bit about his vegan diet and his belief that it has made him a better runner.  The best parts of the book were when he talked about the mental challenge of running huge distances and how he pushes himself.  His play-by-plays of famous races were fascinating to read.  However, I felt like he glossed over the low points in his life - races he dropped out of, injuries, and the failure of his marriage were all mentioned but more in passing than in detail.  I felt like his story would have been a lot richer if he delved further into the hard times in his life.

Number of Pages: 
260

The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison

The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison

A year after the death of her brother, Penelope's obsessive compulsion is worsening, causing her to work in multiples of threes and steal small items. As she wanders farther and farther from home, she's caught in the crossfire of a murder. Lo feels a strong connection to the victim, a runaway girl barely older than she is, working as a stripper. As Penelope seeks something solid to hold on to and care about, she begins investigating the murder, meeting a runaway boy about her age and learning about the other side of her city.  Her new friend, Flynt, helps her move outside her comfort zone, while accepting her rituals. Soon the two are deep into the mystery, and their homes become dangerous places.

This book reminded me of Paper Valentine, another YA murder mystery that I reviewed a few months back. Both study mental illness of young girls, dealing with deaths of close friends or family, and a search for something outside their depression to cling to. Though the books are at times intense, scary and the characters may seem out of control, the girls learn to accept their illnesses as part of themselves and work around them.

Number of Pages: 
325