November 17, 2016


Scholastic Year in Sports 2017. Scholastic. $9.99.

Best & Buzz Worthy 2017: World Records, Trending Topics, and Viral Moments. By Cynthia O’Brien, Michael Bright and Donald Sommerville. Scholastic. $12.99.

Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge: The Dirty Secrets Behind Early American Medicine. By J. Marin Younker. Zest Books. $13.99.

     It can be fun, instructive or both to take a look ahead by taking a look backwards, and in a sense that is what both these books do, albeit in very different ways. The latest Scholastic Year in Sports volume, like those of earlier years, includes material only through August – in this case August 2016 – because of the time needed to assemble the book. So it is a “2017” edition only in the sense that sports enthusiasts may want to know who did what in the first eight months of 2016 in order to watch for what those same players or teams may do in the coming year. There is, for instance, no way to include the 2016 Top 10 college football teams here – the timing does not work – so the 2015 Top 10 are included instead. And the list of the final Associated Press rankings will be of more interest for its earlier entries – it goes back to 1936, the poll’s first year – than its most-recent ones, since it runs only through 2015. The various records set during 2016, early enough in the year to appear here, are of greater interest (and presumably have more staying power) than lists and rankings. For example, there was a triple play – the first ever recorded in baseball in the 115 years records of this type have been kept – made by the Chicago White Sox against the Texas Rangers. In basketball, there was a single-season record for three-point baskets – 402 of them – set by Stephen Curry. In hockey, Patrick Kane scored a point in 26 consecutive games, the longest streak since 1992, and superstar Gordie Howe died in June 2016 at age 88. In NASCAR racing, 2016 was the first year of digital dashboard displays in all cars – certainly the sort of thing whose effects fans will want to watch for in 2017. In figure skating, American skaters had their best showing in a decade – they won two of the four top places at the 2016 World Championships and will certainly bear watching again in 2017. Scholastic Year in Sports 2017, like its predecessor annual volumes, is packed with photos and statistics, contains minimal supportive text, and is – obviously – only for dyed-in-the-wool sports fans, since it covers a large number of sports in once-over-lightly fashion. As a book to provide an overview of a fan’s favorite sport or sports through August 2016, and perhaps get him or her interested in something new for 2017 because that sport looks particularly interesting as presented here, this volume certainly has its place.

     Sports are among the topics in another highly visual, once-over-lightly book that clearly is strongly influenced by the Internet and that casts a wider informational net to see what it can catch. This is Best & Buzz Worthy 2017, which in addition to a sports section has ones called “Music Makers,” “Screen and Stage,” “On the Move,” “Super Structures,” “High Tech,” “Amazing Animals,” “Incredible Earth,” and “State Stats.” This is nothing more or less than a “greatest hits of the moment” survey, with some entries certain to hold their place only temporarily (longest music video, highest-paid TV actresses, top-grossing movies) and others equally certain to hold them in perpetuity (world’s most dangerous mushroom, deepest cave on Earth, largest hot desert). The direct Internet tie-ins here come at the start of each chapter, which note items that are “trending.” In “Super Structures,” for example, this includes Denmark’s production of 42% of its electricity from wind turbines and the Eiffel Tower being the building most likely to be seen on Instagram in 2015. In “On the Move,” there is the note that the race car driver with the most Twitter followers is (or was, at the time the book was assembled) Danica Patrick. In “Amazing Animals,” there is a remark that a video of a rat dragging a slice of pizza down a subway staircase in New York City had two million views in 24 hours. The whole book is a fount of trivia and miscellany. There is a graphic showing the largest stadiums in the United States, another showing the world’s smallest owls, and a table listing the 10 most-popular dog breeds in the country. There is a note that Arizona is the state with the largest collection of telescopes, and one that North Dakota has the tallest scrap-metal sculpture. There is a picture of RoboBee, the world’s smallest robot (smaller than a paperclip), and one of the person with the most Facebook “likes” (soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, not to be confused with the product with the most Facebook “likes,” which is Coca-Cola). The point of all this is that being “buzz-worthy,” or even “best” (however that may be defined), is not the same as being “important.” As long as readers keep that in mind, they will find Best & Buzz Worthy 2017 to be a pleasantly skimmable volume that makes no claim to in-depth coverage of anything – and really does not need to provide any.

     Also skimmable, but scarcely pleasantly so, is a book that goes farther back into history and delves into some areas less salutary than sports, movies and celebrities – but far more significant. J. Marin Younker’s Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge is overstated and overdone – the “dirty secrets” subtitle is really not necessary – but is nevertheless a fascinating foray into American medicine in the days before antibiotics, anesthetics, or even an understanding of the existence of germs and their role in disease. There was nothing particularly American about this ignorance; it was worldwide. But Younker in general selects specifically American cases to illustrate it. Some are quite well known, such as the medical treatment of George Washington in his final illness: when dried beetles applied to his neck did not draw out the throat infection that was tormenting him, doctors had him bled, as was customary at the time, resulting in an 80% blood drainage that was fatal. Others cases are almost equally notorious, such as the treatment of a later president, James Garfield: his three-inch bullet wound expanded to 20 inches because physicians were constantly poking their dirty fingers and unsterile instruments into it in a vain search for the bullet that a frustrated would-be politician named Charles Guiteau had shot into Garfield’s back. On the other hand, many of the stories here are less familiar, such as Reverend Theophilus Packard’s commitment of his wife to an insane asylum because of her “dangerous” religious views (she disagreed with him); his later imprisonment of her in their own home after the asylum released her; and her eventual successful court case against him, which led her to found the Anti-Insane Asylum Society and become an advocate for women’s rights. There is a great deal of fascinating information in this book, delivered, however, in rather scattershot fashion, and sometimes written confusingly: “There is a well-known urban legend about [18th-century surgeon] John Hunter auto-experimenting, i.e., trying out medical procedures on himself, which might or might not be an urban legend.” The book is at its best when showing how societal attitudes and lack of medical knowledge often combined to make matters worse for patients – for example, in 1788, “angry rioters in New York City tried to murder doctors who were known to be teaching human dissection,” and a similar riot in 1824 led to an attack on Yale University’s medical school, all because people believed it was wrong to study dead human bodies to gain information for use in medical treatment. In passing, Younkers makes reference to the theories, both insightful and wrong-headed, of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, as well as those of the later Roman physician Galen. Younkers talks about why bloodletting was done, and how – by cutting, leeches, or cupping. He explains most of his book’s subtitle by noting that “to ‘bleed, blister, and purge’ was deemed heroic therapy because of ‘the strength of its combined actions.’” And he notes that “heroic therapy” remained in use “because physicians didn’t have a solid understanding of diseases and their causes.” All true, but Younkers sensationalizes needlessly – noting, for example, that doctors sometimes bled patients 16 ounces a day for up to 14 days, while today blood donors are limited to those 16 ounces per session, “with a mandatory waiting period of two months between sessions.” So all he is really saying is that science has advanced and medicine is practiced now in a better, more-scientific way. This is inarguable, but scarcely very surprising. There is much of interest in Younkers’ book, but the obviousness with which it is communicated, and the rather unseemly notion that doctors prior to the modern era were somehow deficient because they did the best they could with the knowledge of their time, make Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge a less-valuable guide to now-obsolete medical practices than it could have been.

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