One-Minute Book Reviews

October 3, 2011

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘Empire of the Summer Moon’ – Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others

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Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

By S.C. Gwynne
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
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This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that would like to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

No Indian tribe of the Southern Plains had a more fearsome reputation than the Comanches, who terrified generations of frontier settlers with their moonlit attacks and ability to fire a fusillade of arrows while hanging off the sides of their horses. Empire of the Summer Moon tells the true story of their fall through the lives of three people who had entwined roles in it: Quanah Parker, their last great chief; his white mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, kidnapped by the tribe as a 9-year-old and removed from it against her will 24 years later by Texas Rangers; and Ranald Mackenzie, a brilliant Indian fighter. S.C. Gwynne was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for the book, which the judges called “a memorable examination of the longest and most brutal of all the wars between European settlers and a single Indian tribe.”

10 Discussion Questions for Empire of the Summer Moon:

1. Most Americans know the names of few women who lived on the frontier except perhaps for Laura Ingalls Wilder. What did you learn about those women from reading about Cynthia Ann Parker and her contemporaries?

2. A Comanche male was “gloriously, astoundingly free,” but a Comanche woman was “a second-class citizen,” S.C. Gwynne says. [Page 52] Do you agree?

3. Gwynne says it’s hard to avoid making “moral judgments about the Comanches” when you read the memoir of Rachel Parker Plummer, who was captured along with her cousin Cynthia Ann but soon separated from her. [Page 43] Rachel’s story involves gang rape, the torture and murder of her 7-week-old baby, and other horrific acts. What moral judgments, if any, did you make about the Comanches?

4. The stereotype of the “noble savage” has existed since the time of James Fennimore Cooper, and stereotypes may contain a germ of truth. [Page 51] Was there anything noble about the Comanches?

5. Gen. George Armstrong Custer became world-famous after his defeat by several tribes at Little Big Horn, and Ranald Mackenzie became obscure after his victory over the Comanches. [Page 2] Why do you think the two generals had different fates?

6. The U.S. government failed to end Comanche raids sooner partly because many Easterners believed that “the Indian wars were principally the fault of white men” and that “the Comanches and other troublesome tribes would live in peace if only they were treated properly.” [Page 223] Gwynne says they were wrong: No one who knew about the horrors of Comanche attacks “could possibly have believed that the tribe was either peaceable or blameless.” [Page 224] Did he persuade you of that?

7. Gwynne also argues that the U.S. “had betrayed and lied to Native American tribes more times than anyone could possibly count” [Page 230] and that the Office of Indian affairs was “one of the most corrupt, venal, and incompetent government agencies in American history.” [Page 230] To what degree, if at all, were Comanche attacks justified by how the government treated them?

8. Empire of the Summer Moon cuts back and forth between the stories of its major figures (Cynthia Parker and others captured in the 1836 raid on her family’s fort; her son, Quanah, and her husband, Peta Nocona; the Indian fighter Ranald Mackenzie; and others). How well does the cross-cutting work? Could follow the threads of the story easily or did you sometimes have to reread parts of the book?

9. Especially after the Civil War, the extreme violence of the Comanche attacks “amounted to what we would today consider to be political terrorism,” Gwynne says. Is it fair to compare the tribe to today’s terrorists?

10. Empire of the Summer Moon gives many example of Comanche brutality. The first pages of the book note, for example, after the Salt Creek Massacre, an Army captain reported seeing evidence of beheadings and victims whose “fingers, toes, and private parts had been cut off and stuck in their mouths.” [Page 4] Did Gwynne ever go too far or describe violence that seemed unnecessary to the story? Why or why not?

The page numbers cited above refer to the hardcover edition of Empire of the Summer Moon.  A review of Empire of the Summer Moon appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Oct. 3, 2011.

Vital statistics:

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. By S.C. Gwynne. Scribner, 371 pp., $27.50. Published: May 2010 (Scribner hardcover) and May 2011 (Scribner paperback).

Noteworthy reviews of Empire of the Summer Moon appeared in the Economist and elsewhere.

A review of Empire of the Summer Moon appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews in the post that directly preceded this review.

Publishers’ reading group guides are marketing tools designed to sell books. They typically encourage cheerleading instead of a lively discussion of the merits or demerits of an author’s work. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides are an alternative to publishers’ guides and are intended to give books a fuller context and to promote a more stimulating conversation about them.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule. To avoid missing them, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow Jan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 22, 2011

Mitchell Zuckoff’s ‘Lost in Shangri-la,’ a World War II Rescue Story

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Mitchell Zuckoff resurrects a little-known episode in American military history in his new Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, which describes an attempt by the Army to extract the stranded survivors of a plane crash in New Guinea.  My review of the book ran this week in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. These lines from Lost in Shangri-la don’t appear in the review but suggest the lively details gathered by Zuckoff: “In New Guinea as elsewhere, Margaret Hastings and other WACs filled strictly noncombat roles, as expressed by their slogan, ‘Free a Man to Fight.’ An earlier motto, ‘Release a Man for Combat,’ was scratched because it fed suspicions among the WACs’ detractors that their secret purpose was to provide sexual release for soldiers in the field.” 

May 1, 2011

When Is Humanitarian Aid Inhumane? ‘The Crisis Caravan’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:04 pm
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The abuses of international aid go beyond the Three Cups of Tea scandal

The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong With Humanitarian Aid? By Linda Polman. Translated from the Dutch by Liz Waters. Metropolitan/Holt, 240 pp., $24.

By Janice Harayda

Shock and outrage greeted the recent claims that Greg Mortenson made up or embellished stories he told in Three Cups of Tea about building schools for girls in Afghanistan. The Crisis Caravan makes clear that such rogue idealists – or outright charlatans – find the conditions they need to thrive in a humanitarian-aid industry that operates largely without oversight even if its actions prolong genocide or civil wars.

Linda Polman doesn’t mention Mortenson in this indictment of the abuses of aid but focuses on titans such as CARE, Oxfam, the Red Cross, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders. All of those groups showed up when the Hutu perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda fled to refugee camps in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and their aid workers stayed when Hutu leaders levied “taxes” on the distributed food rations so they could pay they soldiers to slip back over the border and kill more Tutsi. During the civil war in Sudan, the army took food intended for the victims, which helped to enable it to keep fighting instead of seeking ways to end the bloodshed. Humanitarian groups reportedly gave one-third of their food and agricultural supplies to the Taliban in one region of Afghanistan and paid warlords an “entrance fee” of up to 80 percent of the value of donations for Somalia.

Similar examples of ethically perverse practices have been well documented in books such as Michael Maren’s The Road to Hell. But Polman writes with an unusual vigor, clarity and moral urgency that result in part from 15 years of living in and reporting from war zones. She makes perhaps the strongest case yet that journalists abet the abuses by accepting free trips and other favors from aid groups and by exempting them from the close scrutiny they give to other businesses.

Polman’s greatest contribution is to show why the question “Should we just do nothing?” is too simplistic when television screens show starving children, tsunami victims or war refugees. All parties who support humanitarian organizations — the United Nations, the U.S. and other nations and private donors — have options besides withholding money or allowing groups to turn it over to tyrants. Those alternatives include insisting that aid organizations to work together in troubled countries, which would help them resist local corruption, instead of continually fighting for contracts that promote their own survival. The U.N. and others also need to hold aid organizations accountable for violations of international law under the Geneva Conventions, which require each group “to ensure that it is in full control of its resources, including supervision and distribution of relief items.”

“As far as I’m aware, no aid worker or aid organization has ever been dragged before the courts for failures or mistakes, let alone complicity in crimes committed by rebels and regimes,” Polman writes. She wrote those words before the Montana attorney general began investigating Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and may make them obsolete. But she is right to ask: When humanitarians become “involuntary collaborators” with oppressors, should they remain above the law because some of their actions relieve great suffering?

Philip Gourevitch, author of the acclaimed book about the Rwandan genocide We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Families, made a similar point in a review of The Crisis Caravan in The New Yorker.

“Aid organizations and their workers are entirely self-policing, which means that when it comes to the political consequences of their actions they are simply not policed,” Gourevitch wrote. “When a mission ends in catastrophe, they write their own evaluations. And if there are investigations of the crimes that follow on their aid, the humanitarians get airbrushed out of the story.” He added, in a comment abundantly supported by The Crisis Caravan: “There can be no proper accounting of such a history as long as humanitarians continue to enjoy total impunity.”

The Crisis Caravan doesn’t deal with ratings services such as GuideStar and Charity Navigator that guide many Americans in their decisions about charitable giving but leaves the strong impression such gatekeepers often give people a false sense of security about how aid groups use their money. An implicit message of this important book is: Relying on even the best ratings service may resemble installing smoke detectors in every room of a burning house.

Best line: “As far as I’m aware, no aid worker or aid organization has ever been dragged before the courts for failures or mistakes, let alone complicity in crimes committed by rebels and regimes.”

Worst line: “ … Chevalier snarled” and “He growled,” characterizations of the speech of an aid worker and an African president, respectively.

Recommendation? Highly recommended. The Crisis Caravan deals with the inappropriate aid given by some American religious groups and would be an excellent choice for many book clubs sponsored by churches and synagogues.

Published: September 2010 (first U.S. edition)

Furthermore: An excellent interview withPolman (www.twitter.com/linda_polman) appeared in the Observer when The Crisis Caravan was published in England under the title War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times. Read a transcript of a Sixty Minutes report on Mortenson.

Caveat lector: This review was based on an advance reading copy. Some material in the finished book may differ.

About the author: Polman is an award-winning Dutch journalist who wrote We Did Nothing, a book about the failures of U.N. peacekeeping missions. An excerpt from and praise for The Crisis Caravan appear on the site for her publisher. Jon Stewart interviews Polman about the book on The Daily Show.

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter (www.twitter.com/janiceharayda) or Quora (www.quora.com/Janice-Harayda). Jan is an award-winning journalist who has been book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the book columnist for Glamour. She does not accept free books, galleys or other promotional materials from publishers.

© 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 30, 2010

Writing About War Is Hell: Megan Stack’s Memoir, ‘Every Man in This Village Is a Liar’

A foreign correspondent looks back on her work in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones

Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War. By Megan K. Stack. Doubleday, 255 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

Megan Stack wears her emotions on her flak jacket. She was twenty-five years old when, a few weeks after the Twin Towers fell, the Los Angeles Times sent her to Afghanistan to cover the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In this overwrought memoir she tries, as she puts it, to pull “poetry from war.”

At first exhilarated by her posting to Afghanistan, she grew disillusioned by the brutality and corruption she saw over the next six years as she traveled to strategic outposts in what the Bush administration called “the war on terror” – Iraq, Yemen, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. She maps her disenchantment along with her destinations in Every Man in This Village Is a Liar, a memoir in the form of a series of linked narrative essays about the cataclysms she observed.

Stack writes in a florid style far removed from that of great war correspondents like Ernie Pyle and George Orwell, whose unembellished prose threw the horrors of combat into high relief. And her prose is much more self-conscious than that of veteran contemporary journalists like Martha Raddatz of ABC News, whose The Long Road Home is one of the best books on the human cost of war in Iraq.  Stack slips into Libya and finds Moammar Qaddafi’s dictatorship a place where a doctor “muttered nervously,” a government agent “laughed nastily,” and “Sun glinted evilly on the sea.” The angrier she gets, the more overheated her writing becomes. She is seething with rage by the time she sees old and sick people abandoned by fleeing kin during Israel’s heavy bombing of Lebanon, where the terrorist group Hezbollah was based, in 2006:

“I hate the Lebanese families for leaving them here. I hate Hezbollah for not evacuating them, for ensuring civilian deaths that will bolster their cause. I hate Israel for wasting this place on the heads of the feeble. I hate all of us for participating in this great fiction of the war on terror, for pretending there is a framework, a purpose, for this torment.”

Like much else in this book, that rant tells you more about Stack than about the conflict she seeks to describe. And what it tells you is muddled: It conflates the post-9/11 “war on terror” with the older hostilities among Israel and its neighbors.

When she looks outward instead of inward, Stack can offer sharp portraits of her subjects, including countries Americans regard as their allies. In Egypt she is tear-gassed as president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s “modern-day pharaoh,” rigs an election by using riot police to keep supporters of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood party away from the polls. Her report on the savage crackdown on voters lends credibility to words of a human-rights official who told her “that Egypt, of all the Arab states, came closest” to having a gulag.

The account of election fraud in Egypt also reveals her eye for subtle details about how violence affects ordinary lives. Stack notes that as voters were being tear-gassed by Mubarak’s legions, protesters shredded rags and pressed them to their mouths. “Egyptian hospitality unflagged,” she writes,” “they kept offering me their rags because I was a foreigner.”

Best line: “McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks make women stand in separate lines [in Saudi Arabia]. Hotels like the InterContinental and Sheraton won’t rent a woman a room without a letter from a company vouching for her ability to pay; women checking into hotels alone are regarded as prostitutes.”

Worst line: No. 1: “I learned to count the fighter jets that passed overhead in my sleep.” How could she count them if she was sleeping? No. 2: “Violence is a reprint of itself, an endless copy. I mean to say that by itself, violence is not the point. A bomb, a battle, a bullet is just a hole torn in the fabric of the day.” Tell it to someone who took a bullet. No. 3. “Sunlight glinted evilly …” Every Man in This Village Is a Liar brims with cloying phrases like that one.

Consider reading instead of or in addition to this book: The Long Road Home, a fine account by by ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz of the 2004 assault on American soldiers in Sadr City Iraq, and its aftermath.

Published: June 2010

Caveat lector: This review of Every Man In This Village Is a Liar was based on an advance reader’s copy. Some material in the finished book may differ. This post shows the cover of the U.K. edition of the book.

About the author: Stack reports from Beijing for the Los Angeles Times. She was a finalist, with others in the paper’s Baghdad bureau, for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2010 Janice Harayda.

September 20, 2010

Funeral of a Small-Town Doctor / From the Memoir ‘The Good Times Are All Gone Now: Life, Death, and Rebirth in an Idaho Mining Town’

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Julie Whitesel Weston grew up in Kellogg, Idaho, in the 1940s and 1950s, when it was “a wide-open, Wild West town” with brothels and gambling dens that attracted men who worked for the Bunker Hill silver mine. Her father, a doctor, examined the prostitutes twice a month for venereal diseases. He also made middle-of-the-night house calls and received venison and elk steaks from patients, whom he asked, “How’s your body?” After setting up his practice, Glen Whitesel stayed in Kellogg until he died in 1978, and sometimes played the snare drum for Tommy’s Trio at the Sunshine Inn.

Julie Whitesel recalls her childhood in her recent memoir The Good Times Are All Gone Now: Life, Death, and Rebirth in an Idaho Mining Town (University of Oklahoma Press, 2009). In this excerpt, she describes her father’s funeral, attended by friends such as real-estate developer Jim Bening and attorney Bob Robson.

“An honor guard of nurses, each dressed in white starched cap, dress, and stockings, stood like wings on either side of the elaborate coffin at the front of the church. His doctor partners served as pallbearers, along with Jim Bening and Bob Robson, and an extra six of friends, a double ring of hands. Townspeople – miners, wives, businessmen and women, gambling and drinking buddies, Tommy’s Trio, my friends, their parents, teachers, coaches, patients, not-patients — filled the church, spilled out into the parking lot, sang hymns, shed tears. The Episcopal priest, Father McReynolds, who had been one of my father’s gin rummy partners and was shaking with Parkinson’s disease, eulogized him.

“‘How’s your body?’ he began. A low wave of laughter filled the church. ‘No one who knew Doc Whitesel would ever say he was without failings. But I like to think he earned a place in heaven in spite of those failings, common to us all, in one form or another. Glen was our doctor, our friend, and an irreplaceable man in Kellogg, Idaho.’ He faced the casket and added, ‘See you later, alligator.’”

You can learn more about The Good Times Are All Gone Now on the sites for the author and for University of Oklahoma Press.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 6, 2010

The Longest Assault: Antony Beevor’s ‘D-Day: The Battle for Normandy’

Filed under: History,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:26 pm
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More than 70,000 French civilians were killed by Allied action in World War II, more people than died in the German bombings of England

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy. By Antony Beevor. Penguin, 608 pp., $18, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

D-Day has inspired the literary equivalent of an amphibious assault landing. Cornelius Ryan set the tone with The Longest Day, a modern classic of narrative nonfiction that has helped to shape how generations of Americans have seen the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Stephen Ambrose, Max Hastings and others later wrote widely praised books about the campaign that led to the liberation of France from Nazi occupation.

But before the publication of D-Day, no major book about the battle for Normandy had appeared in more than twenty years. In that time, many participants in the invasion, code-named Operation Overlord, had died and left diaries and letters that found their way to historical archives. Antony Beevor makes superb use of newly available primary sources in an international bestseller that gets its first American paperback edition this month.

D-Day is nearly twice as long and much more scholarly than The Longest Day, and it makes heavier use of military terminology decoded in an up-front glossary. It also takes a harsher view of some of the participants in the invasion, especially Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the British officer who commanded the ground troops.

But like Ryan, Beevor has a gift for telling a story through the accretion of humanizing details. In his first pages, he shows Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander, “smoking up to four packs of Camel cigarettes a day” as he ponders whether the weather will permit an invasion (and after giving the go-ahead, playing Checkers in his trailer at Southwick Park in England). Later Beevor introduces a British liaison officer and future 6th Marquess of Bath “who had gained a reputation for eccentricity because of some of his trips through German lines and his habit of leading two ducks around on a leash.” Near the end of the book, as the Allies enter Paris, French women stay up all night to make flags and clothes in patriotic colors: “One woman, who made an American flag, cut all the stars individually from an old dress.”

Unlike many accounts of the Normandy invasion, D-Day does not end with the battles for the beaches and nearby towns but follows the fighting to the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944. Beevor shows the grievous toll the campaign took on the Allies and Germans and on French noncombatants — in civilian casualties, ruined cities, suicides or self-inflicted wounds, and cases of “battle shock,” or what is today called post-traumatic stress disorder. He makes clear that even the uninjured faced terrible psychological ordeals. Soldiers had to scrape the unidentified remains of tank crews off the inside of burned-out turrets. Sailors carried the dead on litters to a ship’s refrigerator, “a solution which was not popular with the cooks.”  Victims of battle shock would start running around in circles and weeping “or even wander out in a trance into an open field and start picking flowers as the shells explored.”

Beevor’s great theme and strongest argument is that the heavy Allied bombing and artillery fire liberated France at the expense of Normandy:

“Altogether 19,890 civilians were killed during the liberation of Normandy and an even larger number seriously injured. This was on top of the 15,000 French killed and 19,000 injured during the preparatory bombing for Overlord in the first five months of 1944. It is a sobering thought that 70,000 French civilians were killed by Allied action during the course of the war, a figure which exceeds the total number of British killed by German bombing.”

For all this, the Normandy campaign inspired epic heroism on and off the battlefield, and D-Day includes accounts of exceptional stoicism or selflessness. A staff member at one field hospital expressed amazement at how uncomplaining the wounded were: “It’s such a paradox, this war, which produces the worst in man, and also raises him to the summits of self-sacrifice, self-denial and altruism.” That contradiction may be as old as war itself, but Beevor shows how – for both sides – it showed itself in unique and important ways amid apple orchards and cornfields scattered with poppies.

Best line: Some American soldiers learned conversational French from language books produced by the Army: “Supposedly useful gambits were also provided in daily lessons published by [the military newspaper] Stars and Stripes, such as the French for ‘My wife doesn’t understand me.’”

Worst line: “In their Normandy battles, the Poles had lost 135 officers and 2,192 men.” It may be military jargon, but the implication that officers aren’t men sounds odd.

Published: 2009 (Viking hardcover), Sept. 28, 2010 (Penguin paperback).

About the author: Beevor won the Samuel Johnson Prize, the leading international prize for nonfiction, for his Stalingrad. In an interview posted on YouTube, he talks about topics that include how he used historical sources for D-Day.

Furthermore: D-Day shows the contributions of nations often slighted in accounts of the Normandy campaign, especially Canada. Beevor writes of the pilots for Allied air attacks in the Mortain sector in France: “It was almost an aerial foreign legion, with British pilots, Belgians, French, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Norwegians, Poles, an Argentinian and even a German Jew called Klaus Hugo Adam (later the film-maker, Sir Ken Adam).” A Washington Post review by the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Yardley, posted in full on Amazon, tells more about the book.

You can also follow janiceharayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 6, 2010

Patricia Morrisroe’s ‘Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia’ — Counting Ambien Pills, Electrodes, and CBT Sessions

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:41 pm
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One woman’s quest for a good night’s sleep

Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia. By Patricia Morrisroe. Spiegel & Grau, 288 pp., $25.

By Janice Harayda

Patricia Morrisroe once flew to Lapland and spent Christmas in a glorified igloo called the Icehotel, where reindeer pelts covered the beds and the indoor temperature was a constant 20 degrees Fahrenheit. She says she hoped that a visit to a place where daylight lasted only a few hours might help to ease her chronic insomnia.

You don’t quite believe that Morrisroe expected that result from her trip, but she’s such an entertaining writer you’re happy to go along. And it’s not as though she hadn’t tried less extreme remedies for her nocturnal awakenings, a condition known as “sleep-maintenance insomnia.”

In Wide Awake Morrisroe describes her mostly futile plunge into a pool of insomnia treatments prescribed by doctors and others. She tried cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques that made her miserable. She had electrodes pasted to her head at a $3,200-a-night hospital-based sleep lab that “would be the perfect place to set a horror movie.” She took sleeping pills that caused memory loss (Ambien and Sonata) or made her insomnia worse (Celexa). Only meditation made a real difference in her life, and to judge by a recent interview in Salon, its benefits had limits.

Morrisroe describes her adventures in a slightly digressive style that at times leads her away from sleep and into such topics as her “snowmobile safari” in Lapland, where she drove a sled pulled by 400-pound reindeer. And she tries a few flaky remedies while omitting any serious discussion of many people’s favorite sleep aid, sex. But she’s such a good reporter and witty raconteur that Wide Awake is the rare book on its subject that might appeal to many people who rarely have insomnia.

Even if you sleep like Rip Van Winkle, you may enjoy Morrisroe’s musing topics such as the vanishing siesta in Spain, a country that has been forced to fall into step with the workday rhythms of the rest of Europe. “Instead of a three-hour lunch break,” she writes, “government employees can now take only an hour, with the result that Spaniards, who don’t start dinner until after 9 p.m., are among the most sleep-deprived people in Europe.” A partial solution may lie in the napping parlors cropping up in Spain, with naps usually sold in combination with a massage. The trend causes Morrisroe to wonder: “Can the Viagra Café MetroNap be far behind?”

Best line: Morrisroe writes after going to a course for doctors in Las Vegas: “In the fifties and sixties, 120 atomic bombs were detonated in the Mohave Desert, right outside the city. Casinos packed ‘atomic bomb lunches’ so guests could picnic hear ‘Ground Zero.’”

Worst line: “Utilizing eight monumental screens, [Sleepwalkers] chronicles a night in the lives of five stylish New Yorkers as they shake off sleep and wend their way into the city to begin their workday.” Morrisroe is too good a writer for that “utilizing.”

Editor: Cindy Spiegel

Published: May 2010

Caveat lector: This review of Wide Awake was based on an advance reader’s copy. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Furthermore: Read Morrisroe’s Departures article on Lapland.

About the author: Morrisroe also wrote Mapplethorpe: A Biography.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter (@janiceharayda).

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 29, 2010

Psychiatrist Daniel Carlat Diagnoses His Profession’s Ills in ‘Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry’


“Psychiatry has become a proving ground for outrageous manipulations of science in the service of profit.” Unhinged

Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry. By Daniel Carlat. Free Press, 256 pp., $25.

By Janice Harayda

Has the profession of psychiatry lost its mind? You might think so after reading this relentless and mostly successful assault on current practices in the field.

Daniel Carlat focuses in Unhinged on the harm that he believes has resulted from the march of psychiatry away from psychotherapy and toward the better-paying practice of prescribing drugs. And he forges links between that shift and many ills in his field, including scandals at top-flight hospitals, one-sided articles in medical journals, and pharmaceutical-company payments to doctors who hawk questionable drugs to their peers.

Some of the statistics in Unhinged are chilling. In 2006, an estimated 10 percent of all 10-year-old boys in the U.S. were taking the stimulant Ritalin or an equivalent each day, and shabby medicine often accounts for its use or that of other psychotropic drugs. Psychiatrists routinely write prescriptions after 15- or 20-minute consultations. They know so little about the biology of most mental illnesses that they prescribe based on little or no science. And they mislead patients by presenting as fact theories formed by working backward from the discovery that a drug seemed to ease the symptoms of a disease. One of the most popular of those theories holds that depression results from a “chemical imbalance” in the brain:

“… the fact that many antidepressants increase levels of serotonin has led to a serotonin deficiency theory of depression, even though direct evidence of such a deficiency is lacking. By this same logic one could argue that the cause of all pain conditions is a deficiency of opiates, since narcotic pain medications activate opiate receptors in the brain.”

Carlat delivers his indictment in a crisp, journalistic style that serves him well, though he writes with less depth and elegance than his fellow physician Atul Gawande. But he doesn’t take his critique of the profession as far as it warrants. He clearly wants psychiatrists to do more psychotherapy but doesn’t make a strong case that patients would benefit from this – only that they would benefit from fewer bad drugs. He seems to take for granted that psychotherapy “works.”

This view clashes with that of respected critics of the profession such as the social scientist Robyn Dawes, who drew on decades of research for his brilliant House of Cards, which argues that psychotherapy itself is a con game: There is no evidence that psychiatrists or psychologists are better at counseling than minimally trained civilians, and both types of professionals have strayed so far from their roots in the study of human behavior that they offer little more than glorified intuition.

Unhinged may have the worthy effect of prompting patients to demand better explanations for why certain drugs are recommended for them — and it would be welcome for that reason alone — but it has little to say to people who remain unconvinced that psychotherapy would be better than the cavalier prescribing of Prozac or Wellbutrin. If psychiatrists are as willing as Carlat suggests to pimp for drug companies, why should Americans trust them with their deepest secrets?

Best line: “ … psychiatry has become a proving ground for outrageous manipulations of science in the service of profit.”

Worst line: Carlat says that an Ambien drug rep named Valerie once gave him a gift worth about $25, and later that day, he saw a patient and thought, “Why not prescribe Valerie’s drug for this patient?” That phrasing is too neat. Carlat also appears to be rationalizing in some of his comments on why he served briefly as a paid drug-company rep for the maker of Effexor.

Caveat lector: This review of Unhinged was based on an advance reading copy. Some material in the finished book may differ, and some people in it are composites.

Furthermore: Carlat is a psychiatrist in Newburyport, MA, specializing in psychopharmacology, and an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine.You can follow him on Twitter at a @dcarlat (www.twitter.com/dcarlat). Carlat tells why he quit giving paid talks for drug companies in the New York Times article “Dr. Drug Rep.” Some of the material in Unhinged about brain scans appeared in different form in an article he wrote for Wired, “Brain Scans as Mind Readers?”

Contrary to the date you see under the headline, this review was posted on May 31, 2010. WordPress appears to be having technical problems that have led to scrambled dates. For this reason, I’ve removed a May 30 post about my forthcoming review of the young-adult novel The Things a Brother Knows.

You can follow Jan Harayda (@janharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 24, 2010

Has Psychiatry Lost Its Mind? A Review of Daniel Carlat’s ‘Unhinged’ Coming Soon

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:36 am
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In late 2007 the psychiatrist Dan Carlat wrote a provocative article about why he quit giving paid talks for drug companies, many about Effexor, an anti-depressant that causes high blood pressure. Now he’s back with Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry (Free Press, 256 pp., $256), a book that indicts his profession for shunning therapy for the more lucrative practice of prescribing medications. A review of the book will appear soon on One-Minute Book Reviews.

May 21, 2010

An Art Critic Poses for a Portrait by Lucian Freud / Quote of the Day From ‘Man With a Blue Scarf’

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:03 am
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Next week booksellers will converge on New York for the trade show BookExpo America, where publishers roll out their summer and fall titles. One of the most noteworthy of the forthcoming books about art is Man With a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud(Thames & Hudson, October 2010). Beginning in late 2003, the art critic Martin Gayford spent seven months posing for Lucian Freud, whom some regard as the greatest living realist. Gayford sat for two portraits and describes the experience in Man With a Blue Scarf. Here is an excerpt:

“The experience of posing seems somewhere between transcendental meditation and a visit to the barber’s. There is a rather pleasant feeling of concentrating and being alert, but no other need to do anything at all except respond to certain requests. ‘Would you mind moving your head just a little?’, ‘Could you move the scarf just an inch? As it is, it looks a little bit “dressed”.’At moments sitting seems almost an embarrassingly physical affair: an enterprise that concerns the model’s skin, muscles, flesh and also, I suppose – if there is such a thing – self.”

This excerpt comes from an advance reading copy of Man with a Blue Scarf. Some material in the finished book may differ.

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