And a Time To Die: How American Hospitals Shape the End of Life
By Sharon R. Kaufman (Scribner)
Kaufman, a medical anthropologist who immersed herself in the world of the critically ill, exposes the bureaucratic and ethical quandaries that hover over the modern deathbed. Her academic analysis is flavored with conversations among patients, loved ones and medical staff as they earnestly muddle through, each advocating his or her idea of a "good death." When one doctor gingerly removes a woman's ventilator and ups her morphine, he insists he is not hastening her death but making her comfortable while nature takes its course.
Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith
By Martha Beck (Crown)
In her second memoir, Beck, a well-known life coach and Harvard-trained sociologist, grapples with two types of patrimony. She detonates the first, her deep, painful connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in bursts of wild spiritual rapture that are delightful to read. Unfortunately, it is the story of her struggle with her second inheritance -- abuse inflicted by her father, a legendary religious scholar -- that dominates. The book loses its way, focusing more on settling a personal score than exploring trauma and truth.
The Math Instinct: Why You're a Mathematical Genius (Along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats and Dogs)
By Keith Devlin (Avalon)
How many dogs does it take to solve a differential equation? One, if that equation happens to involve the best angle for catching a ball. In a sincere, albeit repetitive, appeal to mathphobic readers, National Public Radio's Math Guy methodically explains how nature equips animals to deal with mathematical problems. Yet Devlin proves most engaging when he turns his attention away from puppies and cockroaches. Human beings, from babies to bargain shoppers, turn out to be the best instinctive mathematicians of all.
Incidental Findings: Lessons From My Patients in the Art of Medicine
By Danielle Ofri (Beacon Press)
Dr. Ofri, a physician, distills wisdom from the maelstrom of New York City's Bellevue Hospital in this emotional memoir. In a series of poignant vignettes, the internist grapples with the hearts of the sick, literally and metaphorically. Her patients range from the terminally ill to manipulative hypochondriacs, from veiled Bangladeshi women to convicted felons. A must-read for students of psychology and medicine in need of a lesson in compassion.
One Nation Under Therapy: Why Self-Absorption Is Eroding Self-Reliance
By Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel (St. Martin's)
"Therapism," a disempowering movement that sanctifies feelings and eschews personal responsibility, has, in its quest to avoid leaving anyone out, taken away something once held dear: dodgeball. It's also scrubbed textbooks down to "no-fault" versions of history and unleashed a brigade of superfluous counselors. This lively expose argues that while therapism may be well intentioned, its merits don't hold up under scrutiny -- competitive horseplay is good, venting can be bad and people can bounce back from tragedy. Americans, the authors say, must "cowboy up" and reclaim self-reliance and stoicism.
The Meaning of Wife
By Anne Kingston (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
A cultural critique of wifeliness. Columnist Kingston rounds up plenty of fodder for her analysis: television, movies, books, commercials, articles in women's magazines, even first-person narratives of oral-sex tutorials for modern brides. Her scope is broad and her writing is entertaining, but since she doesn't deliver on her promise to provide a coherent analysis of what it now means to be the better half, it can be tough going. This book is best sampled in short segments in public places -- its cover is liable to provoke interesting conversations.