Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: Wide Awake

Authored by a fourth generation insomniac, this book is both a memoir and a journalistic report on the study of sleep, including recent findings, theories and therapies.

Much of the text is autobiographical, recounting Morrisroe's visits with therapists, psychics, hypnotists, mattress salespeople and others in her laborious pursuit of a good night's sleep.

"People have been searching for ways to induce what Shakespeare called the 'honey-heavy dew of slumber' for as long as they've been able to harvest medicinal plants," Morrisoe writes in a chapter on the effectiveness, risks and side effects of sleeping pills.

The other 11 chapters describe visits to a sleep lab, a trip to Las Vegas to attend a sleep disorders conference for medical professionals, a long night in Lapland's Icehotel inside the Arctic Circle, and a session with a hypnotherapist.

Insomnia, she discovers, is a poorly understood affliction with vague symptoms and few specialists. It affects a much smaller population than sleep apnea, which has become the focus of most sleep doctors since the invention of the CPAP machine in 1981.

When she tells her own sleep doctor in Manhattan about her plan to write a book about her experiences, he tells her it is a terrible idea.

"He wonders if the only reason I went to a sleep clinic was to gather information for my book. I explain that I went to his sleep clinic because I wanted to sleep, not because I wanted to write about sleep. The book came later. Things get tense. I don't blame the doctor for being upset. He has a reputation to protect and doesn't want me to dissuade people from going to a sleep clinic. I explain that I'm only writing about my experience. and each person is different, but the doctor suggests I might be really different."

After all her travels, Morrisroe's personal quest is finally resolved with Chinese breathing exercises and meditation at the 92nd Street Y just around the corner from her apartment in New York City.

Wide Awake
A Memoir of Insomnia
by Patricia Morrisroe
Spiegel & Grau, 2010

Book Stall
Review: Wide Awake
Out There
Science Writing
Submit a Book for Review

Monday, April 18, 2011


Climbing a Wall of Worry

The Aztecs were growing and harvesting tomatoes in southern Mexico when the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés took down their empire in 1519-1521. Cortés conquered the Aztecs and tomatoes began their slow and steady infiltration into European cuisine. But first they had to endure a lot of bad press.

"The tomato's association with the eggplant and nightshade certainly did it no favors," Gentilcore points out. Pietro Antonio Michiel, a prominent 16th century Venetian botanist, noted that if eggplants are "harmful to the head, generating melancholic humors, cankers, leprosy, oppilations, long-lasting fevers and sickly color," then tomatoes must certainly be "dangerous and harmful" and their odor alone could bring about "eye diseases and headaches."

The nightshade family to which tomatoes belonged also included plants like "henbane, belladonna, and mandrake, all of which were though to have magical and hallucinatory powers."

A History of the Tomato in Italy
by David Gentilcore
Columbia University Press, 2010

The Spirit of Cinco de Mayo

What If?

"What if Mexico had not defended herself so tenaciously? What if her people had not stood their ground at Puebla both times? Would a French puppet regime in Mexico have been able to turn the tide of the American Civil War? Divided, would the United States have risen to the prominence it enjoys today? Would it be two separate countries? How would this have influenced events of the twentieth century? Would the rest of the Americas speak French?

"What if Napoleon III had not reneged on his deal to sell the ironclads to the Confederacy? Would the Union blockade that strangled the Confederacy have been broken?

"What if France had not lost their best troops in Mexico and had benefited from them in the fight against the North German Confederation? Would the German Empire have been created? Would there have been a First World War?"

The Spirit of Cinco de Mayo
by Nathan Muncaster
Trafford, 2009

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Money And Soul: The Psychology Of Money And The Transformation Of Capitalism

Time is Money

"People often say that time is money, but perhaps not in the way that the American politician of the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin, originally meant: that it was shameful to 'waste' time - i.e., time that is not used for productive work.

"Time is money in a much more profound way than that. When credit is created, the debt that comes along with it means that we now owe productive time to the financial system. The debt makes claims on our future work. And the interest rate determines how much of our future time is pledged. We could thus say that money is monetisation of the future, in the way that today's money comes about.

"We have borrowed away, mortgaged, our future to the financial system, with interest and compound interest. No wonder we're all busy running around."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Good Old Books: Landscaping Your Vacation Place

Landscaping Your Vacation Place
by Jack Kramer
Scribners, 1975

"In Landscaping Your Vacation Place I tell you just what plants will grow where, whether you are at the seaside, in the forest, in the desert or in a temperate all year climate.

"For each locale there are specific plans and plantings to make your vacation home appealing and to save you needless garden work.

"I include extensive lists of plants for each location and also lists of special time-saving plants, such as ground covers, vines, and bulbs and plants for container gardening -- over 550 plants in all.

"So whether you want to garden on weekends only, or just a day a week (and relax the rest of the time) you will find your guide to better vacation gardening in this book." -- Jack Kramer