Gavin Francis is a physician and writer in Edinburgh. He has won several awards for his books, which include Empire Antarctica, Adventures in Human Being, and, most recently, Shapeshifters: A Journey Through the Changing Human Body. (May 2019)
Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity
by Michael Kinch
Not far from the hospital in Edinburgh where I work there’s a graveyard; it can be a calm, if morbid, place to reflect after a tough shift. Passing it acts as a memento mori on days when I need to be reminded of the value of medical practice—which for all its modern complexity remains the art of postponing death. Benches are set out in the shade of trees, between red-shingle walkways and rows of Victorian tombstones. Many of the stones commemorate dead children, but there’s a memorial near the entrance that always stops me short. It’s dedicated to Mary West, a woman who died in 1865, at the age of thirty-two—two years before Joseph Lister published his groundbreaking work on antisepsis. The reason for her death is unrecorded. Beneath her own name are listed the names of her six children in their order of death—at ages two, eleven, four, twelve, and fourteen. Only one lived to adulthood.
The physician must have at his command a certain ready wit, as dourness is repulsive both to the healthy and the sick. —Hippocrates Medicine is a serious business; when clinical conversations are scrutinized doctors can be seen to laugh less often than patients. But they do laugh—linguistic analysis suggests that …
I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey Through the Science of Sound and Language
by Lydia Denworth
“Deafness as such is not the affliction,” Oliver Sacks has pointed out, “affliction enters with the breakdown of communication and language.” How then to safeguard your child’s best chance of acquiring language and enabling communication? Lydia Denworth’s book explores the science surrounding that question.
The latest edition of our brief dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak around the world, including Coco Fusco in Brooklyn, Lucas Adams in Brooklyn, Sara Nović in Philadelphia, Gavin Francis in Edinburgh, Amanda Fortini in Livingston, Jeet Thayil in Bangalore, Stuart Lewis in Brooklyn, Nellie Hermann in Wellfleet, Carina del Valle Schorske in Manhattan, Jonathan Mingle in Lincoln, Reed Lindsay in Havana, Miranda Popkey in Watertown, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro on Fire Island, Dan Chiasson in Wellesley, and more.
It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that brain structures began to be uncovered, by a Spanish microscopist called Santiago Ramón y Cajal. As an undergraduate in neuroscience and then medicine I was given Cajal’s drawings to study—they have a timeless elegance and enduring value for students. A new book, The Beautiful Brain, collects some of his finest.
Aeschylus offers no neat redemptions for any of the play’s characters, and neither does David Greig. But the immense value of this production lies in the safe space it offers to explore timeless but urgent questions: how do we contain tyranny and transcend violence, and what are our obligations as a demos when war flares along our borders?