Nonfiction November Week 4

November 21, 2016 Books 14


The point of Nonfiction November is to read, discuss, and otherwise celebrate all the awesome nonfic lit out there. The hosts have decided on weekly blog post topics, and this week’s topic is….

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve decided to take advantage of all y’all’s coolness and do TWO of these options.

First, the first option because I have an overblown sense of my own expertise:

Be the Expert

One topic I feel fairly well-versed in is medical science and its impact on society + society’s impact on it.

While medicine and scientific research are interesting topics in and of themselves, it would be irresponsible to ignore their impact on real people, or to ignore the impact of real people on medicine and scientific research. There are actually a lot of books that explore this out there, but for brevity’s sake I’ve limited myself to 3 titles here:

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

In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder’s magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.” At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”–as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig

We know it simply as “the pill,” yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig’s masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid.

Have you read any of these — and if so, did you like them? And if you’ve been reading about the same subject, would you add any other books in particular to this list?

Ask the Expert

Now: YOUR TURN. I’m looking for historical foodie books. These can be contemporary cookbooks that feature historical (or even generally literary-ish) recipes, historical cookbooks, or some lesser-known microhistory book about some food-related subject. (For example, I just learned about the upcoming Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman.) Any ideas?

14 Responses to “Nonfiction November Week 4”

  1. JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

    I loved both Tracy Kidder’s books and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, so The Birth of the Pill probably belongs on my wish list.

    As for historical foodie books… The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bite by Libby H. O’Connell has been on my wish list for a year or so. Review look pretty good and I’m hoping to get to it 2017.

    • Louise

      Ah, that one does look really good. I wonder if it would be weird to read both ‘The American Plate’ and ‘Eight Flavors’ at the same time?

  2. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    I also love books about science and society, but of your list, I’ve only read the Henrietta Lacks book, so I’m excited to check out the rest! For historical foodie nonfiction, I’m guessing you’ll already have checked out Mark Kurlansky and Michael Pollan, but if not, I’d recommend them both 🙂

    • Louise

      I’ve read the Pollan books but so far only have the Kurlansky ones on my to-read list. Maybe I ought to move them to the top!

    • Louise

      Yep, ‘fascinating’ is a good descriptor for ‘The Birth of the Pill’ — if I had to choose I’d tackle ‘Henrietta Lacks’ first though.

  3. Toady

    Interesting topic. I have seen The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks around, and I know it’s available at my library, but never stopped to find out what it was all about. I would be interested in that and The Pill. I am reading Call the Midwife now, and introduction was full of interesting facts of how the pill changed a number of things.

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