Category: Blog Tour (page 2 of 2)

Wellcome Book Prize #BlogTour #WBP2018

Welcome to my blog for the third stop on the tour for the Wellcome Book Prize #BlogTour. Follow the hashtag #WBP2018 on twitter to find the others participating in this:

The Wellcome Book Prize is focused centred on science and celebrates the best new books that illuminate our encounters with health, medicine and illness. This means that the subjects covered by the prize do not always make the easiest of reading. This year we have a fictional book on the pressures of continuing the family line in Nigeria, there is a book that considers the future of humanity and the possibilities of trans-human development. Most of us reading this would not be alive if it were not for the pioneering work of Joseph Lister, or the work that has taken place in vaccine research, subjects brilliantly covered by two of the shortlisted books. The drug culture in Western societies is now endemic, but how it affects families is often glossed over; one of the books on the shortlist talks about just how it can affect anyone at any level of society. There are three things guaranteed in life: your computer crashing, taxes and death, the final book on the shortlist is prepared to tackle the taboo subject of death. 

Today I am sharing an extract from The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman. She is a  reporter at Science and has written for NatureFortune, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. A graduate of Stanford and Columbia, she began medical school at the University of British Columbia and completed her medical degree as a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford and has covered biomedical research politics from Washington for two decades. She lives in suburban Washington with her husband, two sons and two dogs.  She loves walking the dogs, talking with friends and reading histories and biographies.

To remove the history of human exploitation from vaccines and medicines that were developed in the postwar era is impossible. The knowledge that allowed their development is woven into them. Should we therefore shun them? Definitely not. Take rubella as a case in point. As I write this in the summer of 2016, 1,700 babies in a dozen countries have been born with abnormally small heads or other brain malformations; their mothers were infected with the Zika virus while pregnant. Zika’s emergence is a vivid reminder of what life was like in the United States in 1964. Then, there was no rubella vaccine and tens of thousands of American babies were born gravely damaged by the rubella virus, which selectively harms fetuses in the womb. Like Zika, rubella homes in on the brains of fetuses; it also ravages their eyes, ears, and hearts. But today, thanks to the vaccine that was perfected in experiments on institutionalized orphans and intellectually disabled children, indigenous rubella has been wiped out in the Western Hemisphere. Cases occur only when they are imported from other countries. We can’t turn the clock back. The only way we can partially make it up to these children and untold others is to honor their contributions by making them meaningful – by continuing to vaccinate against rubella and the other diseases that made childhood a perilous journey before vaccines against them existed. We also need to strive constantly to enforce and improve the regulations and laws that protect research subjects so that in the future such abuses never happen again. We might also remember, when judging the men who took advantage of vulnerable human beings in order to advance both human health and their own careers, that they were creatures of their time, just as we are of ours. Rather than training our criticism on them, it might be more useful to ask ourselves this: what are we doing or accepting or averting our eyes from today that will cause our grandchildren to look at us and ask, How could you have let that happen?

It is a fascinating book about the development of the vaccines that have saved us all. 
My review for The Vaccine Race is hereI have read all the others on the shortlist too, click on the title to see the reviews.

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris
With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix
To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell
Mayhem: A memoir by Sigrid Rausing 

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs to see what they are saying about the other books on the shortlist:

Wellcome Book Prize Blog Tour

#BlogTour for All her Starry Fates

Welcome to my blog as the final stop on the blog tour for All her Starry Fates. Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour and for sending a copy of this book to read

Normally my go-to reading is non-fiction as for me it can entertain and educate at the same time, but it is nice to stretch the mind and indulge in something else every now and again so I do occasionally read poetry. In the past, I have read Kathleen Jamie and Carol Ann Duffy, and Edward Ragg was generous enough to send me his two published works that I am intending to read later this year.

However, back to this small volume. Lady Grey sets out to explore just how the otherworldly relates to the every day, with short and sometimes abstract poems about subjects that are close to her heart, so we have musings and prose on subjects as varied as love and belonging, books and freedom, magic and the intimacy of a partnership.

There were poems in here that I liked a lot, they spoke to me on many different levels and had elements that appealed deep in my psyche. The prose is sparse, as she seeks to elicit meaning from the simplicity of the words rather than the complexity of language. Some of the poems are quite raw as they have been written from the heart. Some evoke the natural world, and other venture into otherworldly realms. There were a number of other poems I found harder to fathom, but that is as much my fault as they do need to be read and read to sink in. There are some lovely verses in here and it is one to return to another time.

Poetry has a way of reaching into your very soul that fiction doesn’t always seem to manage and this is a collection that has the capacity to do just that. 

#BlogTour for Library Miscellany

Welcome to my blog for the final stop on the blog tour for #ALibraryMiscellaney by Clare Cock-Starkey.
I have been a fan of libraries for longer than I care to remember. I visit my local one in Wimborne most weekends and normally have a book or two to collect or drop back and always look at the shelves to see if there is anything that catches my eye.
This is not the only library in Wimborne though, the other is one of England’s very first public libraries, second only to Chetham. It is located in the beautiful 12th Century Minister at the top of a spiral staircase in the room that in the reformation housed the treasury; now it’s treasure lies on the pages. First opened in 1686, the oldest book in the collection dates back to 1343 and explains how to avoid spiritual pitfalls. The 150 books in the library were open to all, but the major donor, Roger Gillingham, wanted them to be available to the ‘better class of person in the town’. The books in the collection were seen as so valuable at the time that he insisted that they were chained up. It is the second largest chained library in the country. You can still visit it and there are more details on the website here:

Clare’s book is a little book full of gems of information and details about libraries from around the world. 

But before my review here is an extract kindly provided by Clare.

My Review:

I have been a fan of libraries for longer than I care to remember. I visit my local one in most weekends and normally have a book or two to collect or drop back and always look at the shelves to see if there is anything that catches my eye.
This sister volume to The Book Lovers’ Miscellany picks up the same baton as that book. It is one that will have you retiring to the closest comfortable chair to uncover the delights and secrets of the libraries of the world. In here we will learn who was the first librarian, which library in the UK loans the most books each year and just what a legal deposit library is. There is a potted history of the library from the earliest over 2500 years ago to the most recent digital libraries. There are the rules of some of the world’s most famous libraries where you can discover which one states that you cannot carry a gun in (!!!)
It is shocking I know, but there are libraries out there that don’t contain books, however, they do contain a variety of other objects from seeds to smells, art and there is even a library of magic. We learn who wanted the library stock for themselves and were caught stealing the maps and books from some of the most famous libraries in the world, and those who have borrowed the books then forgot to bring them back for quite a while. I’m quite excited by the Future Library that Katie Peterson has created, she is collecting 100 books by 100 different authors and these will not be published until 2114.
There is some overlap between this book and The Book Lovers’ Miscellany, but this is still a cornucopia of snippets, facts and figures about libraries that bibliophiles will treasure.

There’s more. Clare was kind enough to send me a copy of the Book Lovers Miscellany too. 

My Review:

In case you haven’t worked it out yet, I love books. I even like reading books about books too, and when I was given an opportunity to read The Book Lovers’ Miscellany I jumped at the chance. This small volume is packed to the covers with details and facts and stories about books, authors and significant events from the world of literature.
If you want a list of publishers who declined the books that went onto break all the sales records, which parts of animals have graced the pages and the what the largest and smallest books ever made were about and the texts that have been translated the most, then this is a really good place to start. You can find out who are the youngest authors, who are the most prolific and who left unfinished manuscripts, as well as finding out what the colours of the original Penguin paperbacks were for. Not sure what colophon and incunabule mean? The answers are in here as well as finding out what books other than science fiction contains wormholes.
This is a delightfully written and produced book that is a treasure trove of information. Perfect for anyone who has the slightest interest in books, authors and reading, it is short so will take almost no time to read spend a few moments to learn a new fact every time you open it.

You can find Clare on the web here: 
On Twitter Here @nonfictioness
If you want to go and hear her speak about both books she will be at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 20th at 12pm:

Buy the book at your local bookshop; that way you will support the author, the bookseller and the publisher with one purchase. Thank you for stopping by. 

#BlogTour for The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities by Paul Anthony Jones

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to my blog for the final stop on the blog tour for The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words by Paul Anthony Jones. I was fortunate that the bibliopoesy people at Elliot and Thompson were kind enough to send me a copy of it, and this is the fabulous cover below. The image really cannot do it justice though, as it is finished in a glittering gold foil block.

The blurb says:

Within these pages you might leap back in time, learn about linguistic trivia, follow a curious thread or wonder at the web of connections in the English language.

Paul Anthony Jones has unearthed a wealth of strange and forgotten words: illuminating some aspect of the day, or simply telling a cracking good yarn, each reveals a story. Written with a light touch that belies the depth of research it contains, this is both a fascinating compendium of etymology and a captivating historical miscellany. Dip into this beautiful book to be delighted and intrigued throughout the year.

And I have got a snippet from the book for you about libraries, the best way to build a collection of words and books.

Finally here is my review of the book:

The English language has a huge number of words; there are over 170,00 words in current use and over 45,000 words that are now considered obsolete. As the average person in the street has a vocabulary of around 20,000–35,000 words meaning for almost everyone there is a whole world of undiscovered words and their meanings for us to discover. One man who is aiming to unlock this Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities for us all is Paul Anthony Jones. He is the man behind Haggard Hawks, another wonderful place for everything wordy and some fiendishly difficult anagrams, and boy has he found some corkers in this book.

Some words here will make you smile, some will make you wince, but this is a cabinet full of precious treasure, an etymological gold mine. It is a labyrinth as one word leads to another and yet another word loops back past. We will learn the origins and root of words like viaticated, something that you will need to be for this journey, when you’ll need a paragrandine, just what the noise is that the word mrkgnao describes. Whilst all of this may seem mysterifical, you will start to become someone who could be called a sebastianist as you uncover this etmological Wunderkammer. You will learn how long a smoot is, when you need to scurryfunge a house, and just what a yule-hole is and at the end of all that you’ll either be a word-grubber or be in need of a potmeal

Not only is this a book for those that love all things about the English language, Paul Anthony Jones has written a book for the general reader too. Each day of the year has been given a unique word, that is either relevant for that day, or is picking up on the threads earlier in the year. There is a little history behind the word and often more in the text as I can imagine that this could have been twice the size. The first word I looked up was my birthday, as I guess that most people will do, followed by family members and other significant dates. Thankfully it is very readable and can be dipped into as and when you want to. It is great follow up to the Accidental Dictionary and I will be reading his other books, Word Drops, when I can squeeze it in.

It was published by Elliot & Thompson on the 19th October and is available from your nearest independent bookshop. Thank you to them for sending a copy from me to review.

Blog Tour – 31st October

Blog Tour – A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden

It is my turn on the blog tour to talk about Scott Oden’s new book, A Gathering of Ravens. 

To the Danes, he is skraelingr; to the English, he is orcneas; to the Irish, he is fomoraig. He is Corpse-maker and Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent.

He calls himself Grimnir 

My review:

Grimnir is the last of his species. His kind has tormented the human race since time immemorial. Their reputation has meant that people have given them the chilling names of Corpse-makers and Life-quenchers. His great age had forced him to stay deep in the shadows, but now he has emerged for one thing only; vengeance. The world has changed since he last saw the sun, the Old Ways have retreated and a new religion has gained traction and support in the world, but Grimnir will not be swayed from his destiny. He kidnaps a follower of the Nailed God to use as a guide on his journey from Denmark through war-torn southern England and across the sea to the city of Dubhlinn where his enemy and foe awaits.
Scott Oden has deftly woven a story set in the Dark Ages with elements of mythology and fantasy permeating the plot, without feeling like that one has been bolted onto the other. The plot pace varies throughout, with the battle scenes feeling suitably realistic whilst managing not to glorify the gore. The pace did twist and turn reasonably well as well as Grimnir turbulent relationship with Étaín, his captive, adding much-needed depth to the plot, however, I felt that there were the odd time when it dragged unnecessarily. There is excellent detail on the landscape that they travel through in the time set, with only the odd minor discrepancy as far as I could see. What was refreshing for a fantasy book is this is a standalone volume with no sequels; there will be others set in the same world with the Grimnir character supposedly, which I will defiantly be reading. 3.5 Stars

One that I would definitely recommend for those that want to read something different in the fantasy genre.  

Follow the others on the blog tour:

Blog Tour Tomorrow!!

Wellcome Book Prize Blog Tour #WBP2017

I was honoured to be asked to be a host on the Wellcome Book Prize 2017 blog tour, and today it is my turn. I have known of the Wellcome Trust for many years. The first time I heard of them when I was told about my great-uncle making models for them, prior to the Second World War. The next time they came on the radar was when a stipend from them paid for my wife to do her PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Their support for people to develop and explore ideas in the sciences has brought great benefits all around the world.

I do love a good short prize list, in particular, one with non-fiction titles in it and that is why I have followed the Wellcome Book Prize for a while now, normally reading one or two titles from it as and when it suits. This year because of the reading and reviewing I have been doing for Nudge, I have managed to read the entire non-fiction longlist for their website and I have now read the two shortlisted fiction titles. All this prior to the winner being announced.

Dropping some of the longlist titles to choose the six on the shortlist must have been hard as all the titles were worth reading, but the panel has decided on the list below:

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (USA), The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House

How to Survive a Plague by David France (USA) Picador, Pan Macmillan

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (USA), The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House

Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal (France) and translated by Jessica Moore, MacLehose Press

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (UK), Granta Books

I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (UK), The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House

Today I am going to be talking about The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I read this shortly after it was nominated for the Royal Society Prize and had been fortunate to get a review copy from my excellent local bookshop, Gulliver’s. But first an extract with many thanks to (The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (USA), The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House)

Extract from ‘Prologue: Families’

As I write this, organisms endowed with genomes are learning to change the heritable features of organisms endowed with genomes. I mean the following: in just the last four years—between 2012 and 2016—we have invented technologies that allow us to change human genomes intentionally and permanently (although the safety and fidelity of these “genomic engineering” technologies still need to be carefully evaluated). At the same time, the capacity to predict the future fate of an individual from his or her genome has advanced dramatically (although the true predictive capacities of these technologies still remain unknown). We can now “read” human genomes, and we can “write” human genomes in a manner inconceivable just three or four years ago.

It hardly requires an advanced degree in molecular biology, philosophy, or history to note that the convergence of these two events is like a headlong sprint into an abyss. Once we can understand the nature of fate encoded by individual genomes (even if we can predict this in likelihoods rather than in certainties) and once we acquire the technology to intentionally change these likelihoods (even if these technologies are inefficient and cumbersome) our future is fundamentally changed. George Orwell once wrote that whenever a critic uses the word human, he usually renders it meaningless. I doubt that I am overstating the case here: our capacity to understand and manipulate human genomes alters our conception of what it means to be “human.”

The atom provides an organizing principle for modern physics—and it tantalizes us with the prospect of controlling matter and energy. The gene provides an organizing principle for modern biology—and it tantalizes us with the prospect of controlling our bodies and fates. Embedded in the history of the gene is “the quest for eternal youth, the Faustian myth of abrupt reversal of fortune, and our own century’s flirtation with the perfectibility of man.” Embedded, equally, is the desire to decipher our manual of instructions. That is what is at the center of this story.

As you can read from this snippet, it is a significant book. Mukherjee is right to point out that our mastery over the gene is as significant as it was for the atom last century, but, and this is a fairly large but, mastery does not equal control.

My original review for the book written back in August last year I think is still valid:

Genes are not only the key to life, but they hold the details of our history and our future too. In this book, Mukherjee takes us on a journey to uncover the origins of this master code and the story of discovering and deciphering it. It is a story that spans world history, but begins with a monk in an Augustinian monastery who discovers a unit of heredity in his study of peas. Mendel may not have been one of the first to be fascinated but the ideas of heredity, and he certainly wasn’t going to be the last. Darwin was one of the next with his discovery of evolution and the way that certain traits established themselves in the populations of finches on each of the Galapagos Islands.

As science advanced during the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th century, cells started to give up their secrets to the scientists that were studying them. Each discovery added to the knowledge of how each of us carries traits and characteristics from our parents. This dream of making the perfect human from good parents became the spectre that is eugenics, culminating in the horrors with the Nazi obsession with creating the perfect Aryan race and eliminating those that were deemed to be sub-human. Post world war two we knew more about the way that RNA and DNA worked, but no one could work out just how it did it. The brilliant X-ray images of DNA that Rosalind Franklin took gave Francis Crick and James Watson the insight to work out the construction of the beautiful double helix that is DNA. He describes the quest to map the entire human genome, a feat achieved by scientists working across the globe, who just beat a private company who had designs on patenting it.

He is eminently qualified to write this, as he is the assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University. He brings us up to date with the latest research and discoveries in genetic research as well as posing the questions that we need to ask and answer as we learn how to change and write to the human genome. To cover all that we have found out about the gene, the book needs to be broad in scope. It is fairly detailed and occasionally baffling and incomprehensible to a non-scientist like myself, but thankfully not very often. Woven through the book too is the story of Mukherjee’s family and their reoccurring history of mental illness as it moved through the generations; it adds a nice personal touch to the book, showing just how our genes can affect us all. If you want a good overview of the history of the gene, you can’t go wrong starting here.

It is a book that has a lot to add to the discussion and wider public knowledge of science as a whole and health in particular. Mukherjee’s book highlights the enormous benefits that the science of genetics has brought humanity so far, as well as the enormous potential that this research has.

With all the books on the shortlist you will enrich your soul and your mind by reading them. Take a chance, pick one and give it a go; you’ll probably learn something too

There are a number of events taking place prior to the winning book being announced next Monday; details can be found here:

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