Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Mini Reviews: Get Well Soon || Opening Skinner’s Box








Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues And The Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright



Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 336
Publication date: February 2017

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they've suffered from. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering.


Likes: This book has a chapter about each of Earth’s deadliest plagues. The subject has the potential to be depressing, but it’s not! The author’s writing style is funny and upbeat. I could happily sit and read huge chunks of the book at once. It’s quickly paced and not dry at all. The author’s sense of humor made it an easy read. The humor is juvenile, which I appreciate. I’m not the most mature person.

I like that the book doesn’t only focus on death and disfigurement. After each plague, humanity learned more about diseases, the human body, and how we can prevent future plagues. The author talks about what modern humans can learn from historical diseases. The book’s main lessons: 1. Let journalists do their jobs. Burying evidence of a plague causes more problems than it solves. 2. Humans can accomplish great things when society puts healthcare before money. 3. Don’t be a jerk to sick people. A plague can’t be defeated if we’re judging everybody for what disease they have and how they caught it.


I know that I am setting low standards for human behavior here, but it is astonishing that the townspeople agreed they should try to help her rather than burn her as a witch.Get Well Soon



Dislikes: If you already know a lot about historical plagues, you probably won’t learn anything new. Instead of looking at a few plagues in depth, the book has an overview of thirteen plagues. I’ve already read other books about bubonic plague, lobotomies, typhoid, and cholera, so there wasn’t anything new for me in those chapters.

Occasionally, I wished that the author was less present in the book. I like her sense of humor, but I don’t like when authors make moral judgments about historical figures. It’s mean. Those people are dead, so they can’t defend themselves. The author’s judgments about their motives might not be accurate. I think the book would have been stronger if the author sometimes kept her opinion to herself.



The Bottom Line: A quick, funny introduction to the diseases that ravaged Earth. If you’re interested in medical nonfiction, I recommend it.










Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments Of The Twentieth Century by Lauren Slater



Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 274
Publication date: 2004

Beginning with B. F. Skinner and the legend of a child raised in a box, Slater takes us from a deep empathy with Stanley Milgram's obedience subjects to a funny and disturbing re-creation of an experiment questioning the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. Previously described only in academic journals and textbooks, these often daring experiments have never before been narrated as stories, chock-full of plot, wit, personality, and theme.



Likes: I took a psychology class in high school and absolutely hated it. The lectures were mostly tedious, and the teacher was arrogant. However, the class did make me curious about psychological experiments. It led me to Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails and all of the follow-up studies that say Festinger’s conclusions are crap. I also read about Stanley Milgram and a few other well-known psychology pioneers. I guess my high school teacher inadvertently caused me to read the book I’m reviewing now. I blame him for everything I’m about to say.

If you don’t have a background in science, psychology experiments can be difficult to understand. I remember doing a lot of Googling while I read When Prophecy Fails and the follow-ups. Opening Skinner’s Box does a brilliant job of making the experiments accessible to non-doctors. The author describes the experiments, interprets the results, and explains why they’re important. The science in these essays is (usually) easy to understand. No Googling is required. I very much appreciated that.



Dislikes: I struggled with the writing style. When the author writes about science, this book is really good. I liked learning about the experiments, the scientists, and how they’re relevant to the modern world. Unfortunately, between the experiments, we’re forced to take turgid, overwritten excursions to the author’s imagination. She tells us how she “imagines” people and places look. She makes (mean) judgments about people’s thoughts and motivations. The flowery writing style was a constant distraction for me. I was cringing at over-the-top metaphors instead of paying attention to the author’s message.

Too much of the book is about the author. She gives her biased opinions on everything. She gets off-topic at times and talks about apple picking with her daughter or whatever. I eventually started skimming the author’s self-centered tangents.



The Bottom Line: The experiments are fascinating, but the purple prose and authorial intrusions distract readers from the science.













32 comments:

  1. Oh my, I would think these books might give me nightmares. Thanks goodness the first author had a sense of humor. I agree that the more we know about past diseases the more we can treat new ones.

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    1. I have gotten nightmares from nonfiction before, but not from these books. I think the author’s sense of humor in Get Well Soon saved me.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. I just finished Get Well Soon this past weekend - so funny and interesting.
    Dani @ The Restricted Section

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    1. I agree! It’s one of the better nonfiction books I read this year.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. Oh my gosh, I don't like it when authors make moral judgments about historical figures, either. It really, really weakens their point(s) and it's not a good look.

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    1. Yes! Unless they left detailed diaries or something, we can’t know their thoughts or motives. I would rather have the author focus on their actions.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. It seems that your first one is the winner of the day AJ!

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  5. I think Slater's judgments would have ruined that one for me. An author's personal view or insight is one thing, but her writing style and her tangents would be a real turn-off.

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    1. Exactly. I wasn’t overly bothered when she gave her opinions, but I don’t care that she went apple-picking. That has nothing to do with anything. Why is it in the book?

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. You've made these non-fiction books sound fun! I do like accidentally learning when I'm just relaxing and reading ;) Thanks!

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    1. Nonfiction is fun! There are a lot of great nonfiction books in the world.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. These books sound a little on the gruesome side for me, but I have to admit the idea of finding out more about the plagues is intriguing. A good finish to Nonfiction November reading.

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    1. They are gruesome, but the author’s sense of humor in Get Well Soon makes that book bearable. She focuses on the good instead of on the gore.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. Well, looks like I need Get Well Soon in my life. I probably have read a BIT about each of the plagues before, but definitely not anything in depth so I think I'd be fine with that. The opinions may be another matter, but I am curious enough to try it anyway! The Skinner one would be a pass for me- mostly because I don't want to hear that lady harping about, but also cause it's not nearly as fun as plagues 😂 Great reviews!!

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    1. Haha, plagues are more fun. If you read Get Well Soon, I hope you like it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  9. I am impressed that a book about plagues was actually funny -- you really do make me want to check it out!

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  10. I listened to Get Well Soon on audio last tear as I was going to my Parents house for the holidays. I made the mistake of continuing to listen as i was eating beef at Cracker Barrel and then all of a sudden I hear - and there was a rat infestation . It was in the streets the clothes and the food. I gagged on my steak and i was unable to eat another bite.
    I have been curious and the skinner box one for a while tho.

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    1. OMG, I could NOT listen to Get Well Soon while eating. It’s a funny book, but it will for-sure kill your appetite.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  11. The first book certainly sounds a bit different!

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  12. I gotta know more about this dancing plaque... for one with two left feet, that would be horrific!

    I like that you're not a self-proclaiming "mature person." Who wants to be one of them?

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    1. I’m definitely not a mature person :). There’s a whole book about the dancing plague. It’s called A Time To Dance, A Time To Die. I own it, but I haven’t read it yet.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  13. I really struggle when nonfiction writers inject too much of their own personal opinions. I want my nonfiction to be more objective. Also, dancing plague??

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    1. Yeah, I’m okay with the author adding their opinion sometimes, but I get annoyed when huge chunks of the book are devoted to the author’s opinion. I want the facts so I can develop my own thoughts about them.

      There’s a whole book about the dancing plague. It’s called A Time To Dance, A Time To Die. I own it, but I haven’t read it yet.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  14. I don't know much about plagues, so that actually sounds really interesting to me! I don't read much non-fiction, but I'm going to have to check this one out.

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  15. Both the books sound interesting and medical non-fiction I inevitably pick up so this is something I want to try. As a science aspirant myself, it's nice to gain more knowledge especially when it's delivered through such books. But yes, I guess the authors have somehow brought the books a notch down. Anyway, for the content itself, I would certainly give them a try someday. Absolutely loved both the reviews! :D

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    1. Thanks! I love books that blend humor and science. Science books can sometimes be really dry.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  16. The plague book sounds dead interesting. 😁

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  17. I love the sound of the book about plagues - I want to write about some future plague picked up on a farflung planet, so reading up about past afflictions in our history would help, given I only know about bubonic plague in any real detail:). So many, many thanks for sharing this excellent review, AJ:). Also loved your thoughts on the psychology book...

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