Review of “Oestrogen Matters” Avram Bluming and Carol Tavris, TLS 29th January 2019

In the current TLS I have a brief review of Bluming and Tavris’ book on HRT. The full text is available to subscribers; here is the first paragraph:

Few medical treatments have seen as stark a rise and fall as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). In the early 1940s, methods were developed to extract oestrogen from pregnant mares’ urine, and the resulting medication was named Premarin. Marketed from the 1950s for menopausal symptoms, HRT was catapulted into the public consciousness by the New York gynaecologist Robert Wilson’s bestseller Feminine Forever (1966), and made Ayerst Laboratories, who had developed Premarin and paid Wilson’s expenses for writing the book, extremely rich. HRT was hyped as a wonder drug adding years to life and life to years

“Transgenerational Trauma – the Armenian Genocide Considered”

I have posted at times speculating as to the long term impact of collective traumas I may have a personal motivation for this. On my other blog I have often re-posted from the excellent blog of Adam deVille, Eastern Christian Books. On this blog deVille considers recent books relevant to the broad theme of Eastern Christianity – along with his own always perceptive and thought-provoking reflections.

He has a post on a recent book on transgenerational trauma and the Armenian Genocide:

To my mind one of the most important and far-reaching insights Freud first helped us to understand, and many analysts–as well as other psychologists, sociologists, historians, and churchmen–have deepened in the years after Freud (and in particular after the Holocaust) is the long-lasting nature of major trauma, and the very real ways in which something of those traumatic memories will shape later generations who did not experience the trauma directly.

In this instance, Eastern Christians have first-hand experience, starting in 1915 (though, of course, actually much earlier, given a centuries-long trail of blood and tears among Armenian Christians, subject to periodic mass slaughters under the Ottomans) with the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek genocides. The first of these was the largest, and has attracted a good deal of attention in the last two decades. Now that a century and more has passed, and all survivors are dead, the memories and effects of the genocide are not, as a new book reminds us: Anthonie Holslag, The Transgenerational Consequences of the Armenian Genocide: Near the Foot of Mount Ararat (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 291pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This book brings together the Armenian Genocide process and its transgenerational outcome, which are often juxtaposed in existing scholarship, to ask how the Armenian Genocide is conceptualized and placed within diasporic communities. Taking a dual approach to answer this question, Anthonie Holslag studies the cultural expression of violence during the genocidal process itself, and in the aftermath for the victims. By using this approach, this book allows us to see comparatively how genocide in diasporic communities in the Netherlands, London and the US is encapsulated in an historic narrative. It paints a picture of the complexity of genocidal violence itself, but also in its transgenerational and non-spatial consequences, raising new questions of how violence can be perpetuated or interlocked with the discourse and narratives of the victims, and how the violence can be relived.

Review of Oliver Sacks, “The River of Consciousness”, TLS 13th March 2018

I have a review in the current TLS of Oliver Sacks’ essay collection, “The River of Consciousness” . The full article is subscriber only so here is the opening….

Who is the most famous medical doctor in the world today? Until his death in 2015, a reasonable case could be made that it was Oliver Sacks. Portrayed by Robin Williams on screen, inspiring a Michael Nyman opera and plays by Peter Brook and Harold Pinter, Sacks took his followers far beyond the confines of neurology.

In their Foreword to The Rivers of Consciousness, a posthumously published collection of Sacks’s essays, the editors recount the time Sacks appeared in a Dutch documentary series, A Glorious Accident. Along with, among others, Daniel Dennett, Freeman Dyson and Stephen Jay Gould, Sacks discussed “the origin of life, the meaning of evolution, the nature of consciousness. In a lively discussion, one thing was clear: Sacks could move fluidly among all of the disciplines”. Specialists can have a suspicion of polymaths, and professionals can have a suspicion of those with a media profile. In his…

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Review of Compulsive Acts, Elias Aboujaoude, 2008

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This book did not impress me much at all. A far more readable and useful books on obsessions and compulsions is David Adam’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop” which I regularly recommend to patients. I did some book reviews for Fortean Times from 2003 til around 2008, I think this is likely to have been one of the last – none seem to have a life online but will turn up in various archives I have.

Compulsive Acts: A psychiatrists tales of ritual and obsession

The best that can be said of Elias Aboujaoude’s Compulsive Acts is that it’s an easy read. Director of the Impusive Control Disorders Unit at Stanford University School of Medicine, one would hope that Aboujaoude would give both the general and specialist reader some great insight into the world of compulsion. He ranges from obsessive-compulsive disorders to pathological gambling and problematic internet use, yet never really rises above the level of a decent magazine article, in say Time or Newsweek.

In his introduction Aboujaoude makes much of the weighty ethical dilemma facing him putting pen to paper. Clearly the issue of confidentiality looms over every medical writers wishing to make use of the material presenting every day. However Aboujaoude’s throat-clearing and disquisitions on storytelling in his Mediterranean ancestry serve to annoy when it finally comes to the writing itself. In his fictionalised composites, Aboujaoude adopts an irritatingly breezy style, as well as betraying a tin ear for dialogue and a weakness for twee framing devices (in particular his receptionist Aurora, an attempt at down-to-earth wisdom) Furthermore, the cases seem to progress neatly to their conclusions (not necessarily happy or successful ones) and lack real drama. One feels that Aboujaoude must have a decent book inside him – if only it could be compelled to come out.

3/10 – Far from compulsive

Piece on cardiac surgery in Times Literary Supplement

In the current TLS I have a review of two books on cardiac surgery. One is Stephen Westaby’s  memoir of his career, the other is Thomas Morris’ historical perspective.

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The full text is not freely available online, so here is the bit the TLS have made available to tease you all:

It is tempting to place Stephen Westaby’s Fragile Lives, a memoir of his career as a heart surgeon, in the category the journalist Rosamund Urwin recently called “scalpel lit”; following Atul Gawande’s Complications (2002) and Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm (2014) and Admissions (2017), here is another dispatch from a world arcane even for the majority of doctors. To some degree, Westaby’s book follows the Marsh template. In cardiac surgery as in neurosurgery, life and death are finely poised, and even minor technical mishaps by the surgeon, or brief delays in getting equipment to theatre, can have catastrophic consequences.

Like Marsh, Westaby, a consultant at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, is jaundiced about the bureaucracy of health care and the mandatory “training” imposed on even the most experienced practitioners – “writing my personal development plan at the age of sixty-eight”. Now that death rates are published by the NHS,…

Makes you want to read the whole thing, does it not?

As it happens, Henry Marsh’s Admissions is reviewed in the same issue by George Berridge.

Review of “Casebook of Psychosomatic Medicine”, Bourgeois et al, IJPM 2011

The above review from the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine follows on from my review of The Physician As Patient in the same journal. Both books were excellently written, and as time has gone by I appreciate their approach more deeply. As I say in the first paragraph, evidence based medicine and what could be called experience based medicine are often driven into a false dichotomy. Both these books possess wisdom in abundance, and wisdom based medicine is perhaps what we should all be aspiring to practice.  

Helen Pearson, “The Life Project”, Review in TLS 29/03/17

I have a review of Helen Pearson’s “The Life Project” on the UK birth cohort studies in the current TLS. The full article is behind a paywall so here is the preview:

Born to fail

To a non-Briton, the oft-repeated assertion that the NHS is “the envy of the world” can grate. If imitation is the sincerest form of envy, the world’s laggardly adoption of free-at-point-of-use health care is perhaps the truest mark of how much emotional investment the rest of the world really has in the UK’s health system. Early in The Life Project, her book on the British birth cohort studies, Helen Pearson describes them as “the envy of scientists all over the world”. In this case, envy is easier to precisely pinpoint; birth cohort studies have become all the epidemiological and social scientific rage in recent decades, especially around the turn of the millennium. My own daughter, born in 2008, is a member of the Economic and Social Research Institute’s “Growing Up in Ireland” birth cohort.

1946 is the Year Zero of birth cohorts. The low interwar birth rate had caused much…