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Reviews of the Week: Jim Murphy, Richard Mabey, John Dvorak, and More

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or high-demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight. We’ve collected the reviews from November 30–December 4 below, so you can revisit the best of the week.

BreakthroughMonday November 30

Breakthrough! How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever, by Jim Murphy

In the 1930s, Alfred Blalock became famous after he and his research assistant, Vivien Thomas, determined the cause of life-threatening circulatory shock and found an effective treatment. In 1941, Blalock accepted a position as the head of surgery and laboratories at Johns Hopkins, where Thomas joined him. Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig sought out Blalock with a plan for surgically correcting the congenital malformation of the heart resulting in “blue baby syndrome.”

The Cabaret of PlantsTuesday December 1

The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination, by Richard Mabey

One of the most striking images in a book saturated with them is a fourteenth-century description of an animal unlike any that had been encountered before. It had a stem growing from its navel that rooted it to the ground. This lamb-like creature was later deduced to be the pod of a cotton plant. It is precisely this kind of misinterpretation of plants that Mabey (Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants, 2011), one of England’s most prominent naturalists, takes on in his delightfully accessible work of scholarship.


Saving EyesightWednesday December 2

Saving Eyesight, by Linda Pruessen

This slim volume documents the efforts of Seva Canada, a volunteer organization dedicated to saving eyesight in 13 of the world’s lowest-income countries. Introductory chapters provide key background information on how the eye works and common ailments as well as a discussion about which populations suffer high instances of vision problems—the poor, the isolated, and, in underdeveloped nations, a disproportionately large numbers of women and girls.

The Last VolcanoThursday December 3

The Last Volcano, by John Dvorak

In 1902, geologist Thomas Jagger traveled to Martinique to view the devastation wrought by Mount Pelée. Stunned by what he found there, he determined to dedicate his life to solving volcanoes many mysteries. What followed were decades of travel to places such as Italy, Alaska, Japan, and most significantly Hawaii, as he studied eruptions and met with other scientists who, like him, were cobbling together a new field of science based on their observations and shared knowledge.


RadioactiveFriday December 4

Radioactive! How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World, by Winifred Conkling

This joint biography examines two important female scientists who have been largely overlooked by history, highlighting their accomplishments and contributions to the advancement of nuclear science. The name Irène Curie doesn’t ring as many bells as that of her parents, Marie and Pierre Curie, though she won the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with her husband, Frédérick Joliot. Conkling (Passenger on the Pearl, 2015) describes Irène’s childhood and the Joliot-Curies’ discovery of artificial radioactivity, which ushered in the era of nuclear science.




About the Author:

Sarah Grant is the Marketing Associate for Booklist. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Grant.

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