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05 Jul, 2017

Strange Contagion

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Strange Contagion Strange Contagion: The Suicide Cluster That Took Palo Alto's Children and What It Tells Us About Ourselves by Lee Daniel Kravetz
Published by Harper Wave on June 27th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 240
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour
Goodreads

Picking up where The Tipping Point leaves off, respected journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz’s Strange Contagion is a provocative look at both the science and lived experience of social contagion.

In 2009, tragedy struck the town of Palo Alto: A student from the local high school had died by suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train. Grief-stricken, the community mourned what they thought was an isolated loss. Until, a few weeks later, it happened again. And again. And again. In six months, the high school lost five students to suicide at those train tracks.

A recent transplant to the community and a new father himself, Lee Daniel Kravetz’s experience as a science journalist kicked in: what was causing this tragedy? More important, how was it possible that a suicide cluster could develop in a community of concerned, aware, hyper-vigilant adults?

The answer? Social contagion. We all know that ideas, emotions, and actions are communicable—from mirroring someone’s posture to mimicking their speech patterns, we are all driven by unconscious motivations triggered by our
environment. But when just the right physiological, psychological, and social factors come together, we get what Kravetz calls a "strange contagion:" a perfect storm of highly common social viruses that, combined, form a highly volatile condition.

Strange Contagion is simultaneously a moving account of one community’s tragedy and a rigorous investigation of social phenomenon, as Kravetz draws on research and insights from experts worldwide to unlock the mystery of how ideas spread, why they take hold, and offer thoughts on our responsibility to one another as citizens of a globally and perpetually connected world.


The most interesting part of this book to me was the social science of how people interact with each other in a work environment.  It seemed like scientific proof of the old adage “One bad apple ruins the barrel.”  It is important to get rid of people who are going to bring team morale down.  I’ve seen that a lot in different jobs.

The book doesn’t come to a conclusion about the suicide clusters in Palo Alto. He looks at this as an outsider.  He talks to a teacher and a principal but doesn’t talk much to the kids.  Whatever is going on in that school would be invisible to outsiders and may not have anything to do with too much homework or high societal pressure to achieve.

I did like the part of the book that discussed why Palo Alto schools have such high achievement rates.  The kids appear to be intrinsically motivated to succeed.  It would be great if this was not abnormal.  I’ve never understood why people aren’t intrinsically motivated.  It is in their best interest.  Being able to export a culture that creates motivated students would be amazing.

 

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Lee Daniel Kravetz

Lee Daniel Kravetz has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a graduate of the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Journalism. He has written for Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and children.

Find out more about Lee at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
11 Apr, 2017

Epic Measures

/ posted in: Reading Epic Measures Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients. by Jeremy N. Smith
Published by Harper Wave on April 7th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

Moneyball meets medicine in this remarkable chronicle of one of the greatest scientific quests of our time—the groundbreaking program to answer the most essential question for humanity: how do we live and die?—and the visionary mastermind behind it.
Medical doctor and economist Christopher Murray began the Global Burden of Disease studies to gain a truer understanding of how we live and how we die. While it is one of the largest scientific projects ever attempted—as breathtaking as the first moon landing or the Human Genome Project—the questions it answers are meaningful for every one of us: What are the world’s health problems? Who do they hurt? How much? Where? Why?
Murray argues that the ideal existence isn’t simply the longest but the one lived well and with the least illness. Until we can accurately measure how people live and die, we cannot understand what makes us sick or do much to improve it. Challenging the accepted wisdom of the WHO and the UN, the charismatic and controversial health maverick has made enemies—and some influential friends, including Bill Gates who gave Murray a $100 million grant.
In Epic Measures, journalist Jeremy N. Smith offers an intimate look at Murray and his groundbreaking work. From ranking countries’ healthcare systems (the U.S. is 37th) to unearthing the shocking reality that world governments are funding developing countries at only 30% of the potential maximum efficiency when it comes to health, Epic Measures introduces a visionary leader whose unwavering determination to improve global health standards has already changed the way the world addresses issues of health and wellness, sets policy, and distributes funding.


Christopher Murray is originally from New Zealand but he grew up around the world.  His parents ran a clinic in west Africa for a year.  The clinic was so understaffed when they got there that Chris and his older siblings had to do a lot of the care.  During their time there the family noticed that malnourished people who were fed got sick from malaria.  They found out that the virus requires iron to thrive.  When people are starving they don’t have the iron stores for their bodies to support the virus.  When they are refed, they are again good hosts for the disease.  The family published their findings in Lancet.  This led to Chris’ lifelong interest in scientific research – especially research into whether or not conventional wisdom is correct.

At the World Health Organization, he found that a lot of the health data used to make policy decisions was based on numbers that were made up.  He worked with another researcher to develop a formula that figured out the true cost of disease in each country.  He also took into consideration not just the deaths from that disease but the damage done from a disease causing less than optimal health in the population.  I also appreciated his focus on adult health statistics and not just childhood disease.

Using this data lets countries and NGOs decide where the most effective places to put their money are.  Does it help more people to treat malaria or diarrhea?  If you can only vaccinate for one is it better to give polio vaccine or measles?  Measles kills more people but if you survive it you are fine.  Polio doesn’t kill as many people but survivors have more disability.  These are the kinds of questions that they try to answer.

I found the subject matter interesting but the book got bogged down in a lot of interdepartmental politics in the middle.  It picks up again at the end with ideas for living a better life based on the findings of the Global Burden of Disease study.  If you are interested in the real life applications of science and mathematics, this is a great book for you.

Tuesday, March 28th: Lit and Life
Thursday, March 30th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, April 4th: Sapphire Ng
Wednesday, April 5th: Readaholic Zone
Thursday, April 6th: Man of La Book
Monday, April 10th: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, April 11th: Based on a True Story
Wednesday, April 12th: Kissin Blue Karen
Friday, April 14th: Read Till Dawn
Friday, April 14th: Jathan & Heather

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
14 Dec, 2016

Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair

/ posted in: Reading Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair Nujeen: One Girl's Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair by Nujeen Mustafa, Christina Lamb
Published by Harper Wave on October 11th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 304
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Syria

“Prize-winning journalist and the co-author of smash New York Times bestseller I Am Malala, Christina Lamb, now tells the inspiring true story of another remarkable young hero: Nujeen Mustafa, a teenager born with cerebral palsy, whose harrowing journey from war-ravaged Syria to Germany in a wheelchair is a breathtaking tale of fortitude, grit, and hope that lends a face to the greatest humanitarian issue of our time, the Syrian refugee crisis.
For millions around the globe, sixteen-year-old Nujeen Mustafa embodies the best of the human spirit. Confined to a wheelchair because of her cerebral palsy and denied formal schooling in Syria because of her illness, Nujeen taught herself English by watching American soap operas. When her small town became the epicenter of the brutal fight between ISIS militants and US-backed Kurdish troops in 2014, she and her family were forced to flee.”


I finished this audiobook a few days ago just as the news was coming out about the Syrian government retaking Aleppo.  If you don’t have a good understanding of the causes of the conflict in Syria or the history of the Kurds, read this book.

Nujeen’s family was well off.  Her siblings are all older than she is.  One is a director living in Germany.  The rest were university students or graduates.  She was unable to go to school because of her cerebral palsy.  They lived in a fifth floor apartment with no elevator so she almost never left the house.  She learned by watching TV.  She is very smart.  She taught herself English by watching Days of Our Lives.

When the rebellion against Assad started, life didn’t change too much for her family.  They didn’t think it would because they lived in such a safe city – Aleppo.  Her sister joined in the protests at her university until the regime’s response became too violent.  Eventually they moved to their other house in Manbij.

They got used to the hardships.  When her brother visited from Germany, he was horrified at their living conditions and what they were now accepting as normal.  They started to make plans to leave.

Her insistence that live didn’t change that much for them and that no one thought that anything bad could happen in a city as safe as Aleppo was upsetting.  I kept thinking that someday we’ll be telling this story about the U.S.  I had to sit this audiobook aside for a bit because it was making me really depressed.  I listened to it on the way to work one morning and was on the verge of tears all day.  I finished it by listening to it in large sections on the way to and from large family gatherings so I didn’t have time to dwell as soon as I finished listening.

“We will just be numbers while the tyrant is engraved in history.”  Nujeen wondering why history only remembers the names of the dictators and not their victims.

 

The family first left for Turkey and then the children headed on to Europe.  I would love to hear this story from her sister Nasreen’s perspective.  Nujeen was a teenager who had never left the house.  Nasreen was in charge of her.  It sounds like she drove poor Nasreen to distraction with her excitement about being out in the world.  Nasreen was trying to get them through hostile countries and Nujeen was bubbling over with how exciting it all was.  She did realize that there were times that Nasreen just wanted her to shut up.

They went through Turkey and then took an inflatable boat illegally to Greece.  Whether or not to take her wheelchair on the boat was a major point of contention.  They made the trip on the same day as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned trying the trip from farther down the coast.  From there they moved country to country to Germany to meet their brother just as the countries in Europe were starting to close their borders to refugees.

Nujeen talks about how her status as an English speaking refugee in a wheelchair led to a lot of interviews.  One of them made its way into this John Oliver piece.

I enjoyed Nujeen’s story because she is a very smart and very sassy teenager.  That comes through in the writing.  She’s funny.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to put a human face on the humanitarian crisis.

18 Nov, 2016

Brave New Weed

/ posted in: Reading Brave New Weed Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis by Joe Dolce
Published by Harper Wave on October 4th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“The former editor-in-chief of Details and Star adventures into the fascinating “brave new world” of cannabis, tracing its history and possible future as he investigates the social, medical, legal, and cultural ramifications of this surprisingly versatile plant.
Pot. Weed. Grass. Mary Jane. We all think we know what cannabis is and what we use it for. But do we? Our collective understanding of this surprising plant has been muddled by politics and morality; what we think we know isn’t the real story.
A war on cannabis has been waged in the United States since the early years of the twentieth century, yet in the past decade, society has undergone a massive shift in perspective that has allowed us to reconsider our beliefs. In Brave New Weed, Joe Dolce travels the globe to “tear down the cannabis closet” and de-mystify this new frontier, seeking answers to the questions we didn’t know we should ask.
Dolce heads to a host of places, including Amsterdam, Israel, California, and Colorado, where he skillfully unfolds the odd, shocking, and wildly funny history of this complex plant. From the outlandish stories of murder trials where defendants claimed “insanity due to marijuana consumption” to the groundbreaking success stories about the plant’s impressive medicinal benefits, Dolce paints a fresh and much-needed portrait of cannabis, our changing attitudes toward it, and the brave new direction science and cultural acceptance are leading us.
Enlightening, entertaining, and thought-provoking, Brave New Weed is a compelling read that will surprise and educate proponents on both sides of the cannabis debate.”


I knew nothing about marijuana.  I’ve never smoked or eaten an edible.  I wouldn’t have the first clue how to get any marijuana if I was interested.  However, I am interested in the medical aspects of marijuana use.  This is what I found most fascinating about this story.

The author had smoked in college but hadn’t used any in years.  He wanted to investigate the claims on both the pro-legalization side and the prohibition side.  He worked in medical dispensaries in states where it is legal.  Different strains of marijuana have been bred to work better for different diseases.  Some get rid of nausea.  Other work better for pain.  Others help calm anxiety.  Some don’t produce a much of a high but help physical illnesses.  A well trained dispensary staff can help patients determine what strains are best for them based on the chemical profiles of the particular plant and determine the best delivery mechanism for each patient – smoke, vaporize, eat, oils?

How did a plant that appears to have many benefits get to be so reviled?  It doesn’t have a history of recorded deaths, like alcohol and tobacco.  However it is a schedule I drug which means that it is considered to have no medicinal value.  That puts it in the same class as heroin.

He covers the history of marijuana and the racial inequality that led to it being so problematic in the United States.  He investigated what happened when other countries decriminalized possession.  He talked to scientists to learn about the latest research in medical marijuana.

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I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of the drug wars in the United States and the potential benefits of legalization.

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