Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital, by David Oshinsky (2016 release)
To many Manhattan’s most famous hospital is notorious for its psychiatric ward. The nuthouse – a scary place to avoid.
It is and has been so much more, something I might never have known had I not read Oshinsky’s well-written and thoroughly researched book on the place.
In the 18th century Bellevue was a foul smelling filthy hospital, and the only place millions of immigrants without money or resources could get any help. Since then it has become known as THE hospital that responded to the AIDS crisis not by turning people away, but by treating them -treating all regardless of their disease, regardless of their social standing.
A hospital sometimes at the forefront of technological and humane advances – e.g. use of ambulances (a way to remove the wounded from the battlefields of the Civil War became a way to treat people in crowded city streets), organized nurse training, and as ever a place for people who fell through the cracks elsewhere.
**As a sideway I recommend reading this NYT article written in 1983 and as relevant today regarding the mental healthy crisis in this country.
A fascinating read not only about this important institution, but also an engaging look at the evolution of professional medical care in New York.
Oshinsky is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Polio: An American Story.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond (2016 release)
One of The New York Times top ten books of the year.
Desmond, a prominent Harvard sociologist, spent over a year living in two of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods to tell the story of eight families and two landlords.
From the publisher: “In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.”
Without a home everything else falls apart.
I strongly recommend reading this book and checking out this insightful article and devastating photographs in The Atlantic.
Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires by Selwyn Raab
In 2005 a veteran crime reporter who has spent decades chronicling the mafia wrote what I would consider the best historical document of New York City’s organized crime, from the days of Dutch Schultz to John Gotti. All packed in 765 pages. Ok, it’s long – but there is so much information and it is so well organized!
In addition to the history of New York’s infamous five crime families- the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese – we get a bit of history on Las Vegas and how regional (smaller) families work. From the Mario Puzo like evolution of the gangs into corporate entities under the leadership of Lucky Luciano to the mob’s decline in the 1980s with the government’s increased use of antiracketeering (RICO) laws as a prosecutorial tactic and the abandonment of the old code of omertà with the embrace of the drug trade.
Since 2005, but really since 2001, the mafia has faded into the background.
Note, if you scan Google for what the mafia is up to you will find headlines as recent as April 2016 “46 Charged in Mafia Racketeering Conspiracy”…and certainly organized crime looms large, but the days of bodies piled in the streets and dapper dons in bathrobes smoking cigars on a borough street corner are in the past.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (2016 release)
It began and ended well enough with his grandmother’s shenanigans, but while I wanted to know her (“Mamaw”) better I cared little for him by the end. Vance seemed to have embraced a pompousness an “I’m better than you” attitude directed at the very people he blamed for that blasé attitude toward “his” people.
A self-described “hillbilly from a hard-hit Ohio steel town, Vance’s family struggled with poverty and domestic violence as jobs evaporated and alcoholism took its toll.
A college professor, with whom I was having a conversation about the number of books on poor white people, suggested I observe Vance’s media campaign. I slowly started to take note – and while this should neither add to nor take away from the book – found Vance a poster child for Trump. He has said he is not a Trump supporter, and yet during the campaign he popped up on dozens of outlets continually explaining why blue-collar white folks love Trump. Note, I have since found out the Silicon Valley venture capital firm he works for is owned by prominent Trump supporter Peter Thiel (who has since announced his bid for California governor).
The college professor I spoke with believes Vance is being groomed for a political position.
Well, read the book don’t read the book….certainly it lends to today’s political discussions.
*I strongly encourage reading this article in The Washington Post on the life and slow death of a former Pennsylvania steel town.
How to Survive a Plague by David France
From the publisher:
A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts.
Not since the publication of Randy Shilts’s classic And the Band Played On has a book measured the AIDS plague in such brutally human, intimate, and soaring terms.
In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation’s disease-fighting agencies.
With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers’ club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter.
Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider’s account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights.
Killers of the Dream by Lillian Smith
In 1949, Smith kept up her personal assault on racism with Killers of the Dream, a collection of essays that attempted to identify, challenge and dismantle the Old South’s racist traditions, customs and beliefs, warning that segregation corrupted the soul. She also emphasized the negative implications on the minds of women and children. Written in a confessional and autobiographical style that was highly critical of southern moderates, it met with something of a cruel silence from book critics and the literary community.
I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation by Anne Sebba
The former Reuters foreign correspondent, pored over memoirs, diaries, and letters, read books, watched films, handled artifacts, and interviewed women who lived through the events to understand how the war changed the lives of Parisiennes and how they adjusted to loss, fear, and hunger under occupation.
From the publisher:
Paris in the 1940s was a place of fear, power, aggression, courage, deprivation, and secrets. During the occupation, the swastika flew from the Eiffel Tower and danger lurked on every corner. While Parisian men were either fighting at the front or captured and forced to work in German factories, the women of Paris were left behind where they would come face to face with the German conquerors on a daily basis, as waitresses, shop assistants, or wives and mothers, increasingly desperate to find food to feed their families as hunger became part of everyday life.
When the Nazis and the puppet Vichy regime began rounding up Jews to ship east to concentration camps, the full horror of the war was brought home and the choice between collaboration and resistance became unavoidable. Sebba focuses on the role of women, many of whom faced life and death decisions every day. After the war ended, there would be a fierce settling of accounts between those who made peace with or, worse, helped the occupiers and those who fought the Nazis in any way they could.
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
Won the National Book Award in 2012.
An engaging literary detective story by noted Harvard Shakespeare scholar.
I recommend reading this review in the Los Angeles Review of Books.