This is the 20th instalment of “Recent Reads”, where I wrap up 3 books that I don’t have a lot to say about! This is a special non fiction edition.
The Knife’s Edge, by Professor Stephen Westaby
An intimate and compelling exploration into the unique psyche of the heart surgeon, by one of the profession’s most eminent figures.
Although Professor Stephen Westaby was born with the necessary coordination and manual dexterity, it was a head trauma sustained during university that gifted him the qualities of an exceptional heart surgeon: qualities that are frequently associated with psychopathy. His thirty-five-year career has been characterised by fearlessness and ruthless ambition; leaving empathy at the hospital door as thousands of patients put their lives in his hands.
For heart surgeons, the inevitable cost of failure is death and in The Knife’s Edge, Westaby reflects on the unique mindset of those who are drawn to this exhilarating and often tragic profession. We discover the pioneers who grasped opportunities and took chances to drive innovation and save lives. Often difficult, uninhibited and fearless, theirs is a field constantly threatened by the risk of public failure.
Like those before him, Westaby refuses to draw the line in his search of a lifetime solution to problems of the heart. His determination is unerring – a steadfastness underpinned by his unusual mind. But as we glimpse into the future of cardiac surgery, for all its remarkable scientific advancement, one question remains: within the confines of socialised medical healthcare systems, how can heart surgeons – individuals often hardwired with avoidance of self-doubt, a penchant for glory and a flagrant disregard for authority – truly flourish?
Earlier in the year I read and enjoyed the author’s first part of his memoirs (Fragile Lives), and found it very emotional. This was also a difficult read – but this time it was difficult because of the author’s final moments in the NHS. It is worth reading as a cautionary tale. This was borrowed from the library – I gave it 4*.
Head Over Heels in the Dales, by Gervase Phinn
‘Could you tell me how to spell “sex” please?’
Gervase Phinn thinks he’s heard just about everything in his two years as a school inspector, but a surprising enquiry from an angelic six-year-old reminds him never to take children for granted.
This year Gervase has lots of important things on his mind – his impending marriage to Christine Bentley (the prettiest headteacher for miles around), finding somewhere idyllic to live in the Yorkshire Dales, and the chance of a promotion. All of which generate their fair share of excitement, aided and abetted as usual by his colleagues in the office.
In Head Over Hells in the Dales, join Gervase Phinn in the classroom where he faces his greatest challenge: keeping a straight face as teachers and children alike conspire to have him laughing out loud.
I’ve now read most of the author’s tales of life as a school inspector. Whilst they are all very funny, this one fell a little flat for me – not sure why. They are still all good fun though. This was from my personal TBR and I gave it 3*.
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie
Fourteen novels. Fourteen poisons. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it’s all made-up . . .
Agatha Christie reveled in the use of poison to kill off unfortunate victims in her books; indeed, she employed it more than any other murder method, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random–the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but this is not the case with poisons. How is it that some compounds prove so deadly, and in such tiny amounts?
Christie’s extensive chemical knowledge provides the backdrop for A is for Arsenic, in which Kathryn Harkup investigates the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen classic Agatha Christie mysteries. It looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, the cases that may have inspired Christie, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons, both at the time the novel was written and today. A is for Arsenic is a celebration of the use of science by the undisputed Queen of Crime.
Husband has been giving me strange looks all week since I picked this up – can’t think why…. 😉
Anyway, apart from worrying him slightly that I was getting ideas – this was a fascinating look at the poisons Agatha Christie uses in her novels, and how accurate (or not in one case) the poisonings were. I felt it was a little chemistry heavy though – if you have a background in science you may enjoy it more. This was also from my personal TBR – and because I didn’t understand some of it I gave it 3*.
Are you taking part in Non Fiction November? Any recommendations?