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Book reviews

... written by library members and library staff

Edith Cavell  by Diana Souhami  and Sisters by Barbara Mortimer

Two non-fiction books which shed light on what it has meant, in the past, to be a professional nurse in time of war.

Edith Cavell is a good biography, giving an excellent sense of the development of professional nursing, and of how Cavell came to an unsought status as role model and martyr in First World War Belgium. 

For a lighter read, Sisters gives brief excerpts from many World War II nurses' letters, diaries and accounts, sometimes startling to read from the vantage point of our modern NHS.

Both books can be found on the general non-fiction shelf at the back of the library (or contact us to request one).  (RM March 2016)

Do no harm:  stories of life, death and brain surgery by Henry Marsh

There has been a lot of talk about Do No Harm. For those who haven't heard about it: Henry Marsh is a consultant neurosurgeon with an active conscience and a sharp awareness of his own fallibility. He has already received considerable media coverage, having been the protagonist of a compelling documentary called The English Surgeon. Now he has written a memoir of his career in neurosurgery

Do No Harm deals with Marsh's regret at doing good to patients that evil may come, varied with his intense relief when success comes instead.  His writing makes his readers re-enact, in a very small way, his daily anxiety about which patient will be the success story and which will go horribly wrong.  Marsh's remorse when he'wrecks' a patient is painfully acknowledged, yet always carefully placed against the much greater horror experienced by the patient and family. The details of the operations and the conditions which require them are riveting and occasionally terrifying.

Threaded through the case descriptions are anecdotes of his visits to the Ukraine to support a fellow neurosurgeon, who is battling with the poverty and indifferenceof an underprovided health system (this was the major theme of the documentary film). These issues contrast with Marsh's own struggles with the leviathan NHS at home.

His insider view of the NHS is both comic and painful. In The English Surgeon we saw this capable man reduced to speechless despair by his electronic timesheet. Here he describes his frustration when he and his team spend hours waiting to begin an operation while paperwork is being chased up, or when hunting through the hospital to find a patient who has been moved to Who-knows-where Ward. On another telling occasion, his Chief Executive reproves him for speaking of 'your Trust'.  'It's our Trust', says the Chief Executive, but a minute later Marsh finds himself saying 'your Trust' again,  From the full heart the mouth speaks.

Marsh is as honest as he can manage to be about his own selfishness, self-protection and arrogance, and you probably wouldn't want to cross him, in spite of his mild public manner; intelligence, a volcanic temper, natural authority and an acid tongue would make him formidable. His total focus on the best outcome for his patients and perfectionism in his craft are impressive, and his reflections on error and informed consent in surgery are important for us all.

Do not read this title if you can't cope with black humour, inconvenient truths, or the f-word.  Everyone else - it is a complete page-turner.

Shelved at WL21               (RM Feb 15)

Madness explained: psychosis and human nature by Richard P. Bentall

Personally I like trouble-makers, and Bentall goes into academic battle with wit and humanity. His thesis is that much psychiatric thinking overlooks the mechanisms of normal psychology, and thereby misses important tricks in understanding mental disturbance. Bentall also tilts against the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder diagnostic criteria, believing that symptom clusters are a better guide to the problems experienced by individual patients, and that trying to map them to DSM rules is unhelpful and misleading.

Madness explained seems to have collected praise and sour reviews in roughly equal proportions (most of the latter from the psychiatry camp - why am I not surprised?) I am not qualified to referee in his spat with psychiatry, but his overview of psychological research and its application to psychiatry was nearly all new to me and made a fascinating read.

Shelved at WM100         (RM Oct 14)

Medi-Vision Films - Orthopaedics 1, 2, 3  (DVDs)

The DVD presentation was good, offering a proper 20-minute teaching session, relating anatomical structure and possible diseases - much better than anything I have watched on YouTube!

Whole series of 60 DVDs shelved near computers in the library.  Orthopaedics at WE725 within this series.                   (Toby Mercer, July 2014)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who died of aggressive ovarian cancer in Baltimore in the 1950s.  Prior to her death, and without her or her family's consent or knowledge, some cells were removed by biopsy from her tumour.  When scientists examined the cells they noticed something amazing:  the cells were growing outside of their host body, and kept on doing so infinitely in laboratory conditions.  The scientist culturing the cells donated them for free to any researcher who asked, and Henrietta became immortal, her cells being blasted into space, bombarded with radiation, and used as the cornerstone of the billion dollar modern biotech industry.

Henrietta's children, who had grown up in poverty-stricken Baltimore grieving for their mother from a young age, were astonished when they discovered, years later, that their mother was in some way still alive in thousands of laboratories across the world.

Journalist Rebecca Skloot's engaging book recounts her investigation into this extraordinary story.  She contrasts one of the most important scientific, biological and medical discoveries of the 20th century with the experiences of the real people affected and involved, as well as the implications for medical ethics and consent, racial and social politics, and scientific and medical progress.

(Shelved with the general non-fiction reading collection at the back of the library)            (Alex Paul,  July 2014)      

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help investigates the strained yet intimate relationships between white housewives and their maids-of-all-work or 'helps' in 1960s Mississippi, and between white children and those maids.  The main plot line concerns a white woman, Skeeter, who begins to investigate the maids' views of their employment, decides to write a book about their experiences, and gets in deeper than she ever expected.

The strong characters and storylines were involving, and the narrative brought out the crudity of racial segregation, varied by the more subtle class sytem within each racial group, and the entirely individual relationships of each mistress/maid dyad.  The period detail was convincing, and apparently based on Stockett's personal experience, which gives a sense of edge and authenticity to the collusion between the whites and the anxiety of the blacks.

Skeeter's book, the catalyst of all the action, is also called The Help. Of course we can never read it; but I think it is the book Stockett wishes she had written, with the 'helps' of her early life, and it hovers like a ghostly twin behind the fictional storylines of the novel.

(Shelved with the Moodboosters in the Oliveira Library)         (RM, May 2014)

The examined life by Stephen Grosz

Psychoanalysis is made fascinating and accessible in this elegantly written book.  Each chapter describes a case history, throwing light on some of the more mysterious and dark recesses of the human mind.  Enlightening, entertaining, and eminently readable, The examined life will help increase understanding and sympathy for others, and also help us reflect on our own histories and the forces that have shaped us.

Reading this is rather like finding oneself sitting next to a fascinating companion at dinner, who regales us with absorbing anecdotes and teaches us new things about ourselves.  Highly recommended.          

(Shelved at WM450)                                (Heather Cooper, April 2014)

Words that heal the blues by Douglas Bloch

This is a self-help recovery programme for mental health and for people having a hard time.  It is a very practical daily guide to follow.  It makes you think about your life, how to approach issues, to cope and manage whilst encouraging you to remain positive.  Excellent little book, very useful!

(Shelved at WM170)                             (Sarah Stuart, February 2014)

Care planning:  a guide for nurses by David Barrett, Benita Wilson, Andrea Woollands  (2nd ed. 2012)

Covers care planning in a variety of applications.  Very interesting and useful for student nurses who require the basics, and can be explored further in the relevant portions.  In all, very useful. 

(Shelved at WY112)                             (library user, November 2013)

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Nathan Filer is a mental health nurse by profession and this is his first novel.  The protagonist has schizophrenia, and the insight into the condition is excellent.  I would recommend it to those with this diagnosis and to their colleagues, carers and family.  The story also relates in one chapter the matter of caring for a physically disabled relative, in a touching and accurate manner.  Not only that, but it is also a stonking good read which kept me up late and nearly made me oversleep for a Trust study day!

(Shelved with the 'mood-boosting' books)             (Heather Hardie, September 2013)

Wilful Blindness:  why we ignore the obvious at our peril  by Margaret Heffernan

This is very readable, and keeps your attention through references to familiar scandals (e.g. Bristol cardiac unit; the financial collapse; wikileaks) and other less well-known tragedies - where many people were aware of the inevitable outcome, but no-one took action ... or did they?  The heartache and loneliness of the campaigner/whistleblower contrasts with the comfort the majority of us gain by absolving ourselves of responsibility.

Heffernan concludes that unless our leaders can be brave enough to proactively seek out diversity and dissent in their organisations, then, whatever our stated ethics may be, our overriding instinct for conformity predestines us to remain 'wilfully blind' bystanders to impending disaster.

Most chapters will make sense read independently; however, reference to the examples in different contexts throughout the book makes it best read as a whole.

If you want to skip, some sections are directly relevant to the NHS:

p 168 - Bristol cardiac unit scandal
p 178 - medical students and conformity
p 198 - nurses
p 243 - medical ethics and medical insurance
final chapter - leadership

(Shelved at WLM452 in the library)              (Anne Lancey, July 2013)

The Answers by Lucy Kellaway

There are plenty of excellent books and courses on leadership and management, but few of them give us the answers to the questions that really bother us in the workplace...

Should I tell my boss what I think of him?
How do I tell my colleague that he smells?
Is my close friendship with a colleague dangerous?
I'm in a rut, how do I get out?
Do I dare to take a lunch break?
What do I write in colleagues' leaving cards?
These, and many more, questions are among those sent to the Financial Times' Agony Aunt, Lucy Kellaway.  You'll be entertained and informed - and at the very least, you'll probably be really glad you work here and not in some of the big financial institutions!

(The Answers is shelved at WX400)                   (Heather Cooper, July 2013)

Quiet:  the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking by Susan Cain

Are you reflective and quiet by nature?  Were you labelled "shy" as a child, and made to feel this was a bad thing?  Or perhaps you are by nature exuberant, but someone close to you is very much quieter?

Quiet is an exploration of how the talkative, outgoing person has come to be highly valued in today's society, and how both the extraverted and introverted personalities are equally valuable.

This is a fascinating read for anyone - if you are a parent, a partner, or have any sort of teaching role it will be infinitely useful; and those of you who have ever explored their Myers Briggs profile will find this a thought-provoking and illuminating resource.

(Shelved at WLM350 in the library)                               (Heather Cooper April 2013)

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