Book Review: Testosterone Rex

twitterlogoBRBook review by Mary Manning.

Cordelia Fine’s Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society (W.W. Norton, 2017) presents a premise that is bold in both its ambition and its execution.  Testosterone Rex is Fine’s shorthand for the set of scientific premises of the brain, hormones, and other bodily phenomena that have been used to justify or excuse masculine behavior and undermine equality between the sexes. With a Ph.D. in Psychology and a professorship at the University of Melbourne, Fine’s academic credentials are strong, and this is her third science book for mainstream audiences.  Her humor and her ability to distill complicated scientific studies into prose for non-specialist readers makes this book an important foray into unpacking the actual science of gender as opposed to the preconceptions that have accumulated over time in our society.

30231724Fine divides Testosterone Rex into “Past,” “Present,” and “Future,” with the intent to chart scientific perceptions of gender over time.  She begins by showing how, in the past, science predicated on incomplete data suggested a definite split in gendered behavior.  For example, Angus Bateman’s 1940s studies on sexual selection using fruit flies supposedly demonstrated that male reproductive success increased with promiscuity.  Yet Fine demonstrates that Bateman selectively interpreted the data he gained by breeding the fruit flies, and had thus obscured the notion of female agency in reproduction.  The “Past” section continues by arguing for the flexibility of human behavior against the stereotypes of men, able and willing to pursue any and all sexual encounters, and women, more cautious about their coupling because of the high risk of choosing a poor mate.   Continue reading “Book Review: Testosterone Rex”

CFP: Sickness and Health in the Era of Trump

This Monday — August 7th, 2017 — marked the 200th day of the Trump administration. Since January we have seen the steady erosion (chronicled by Amy Siskind and Matt Kiser among others) of our national — and international — well-being under the destructive leadership of a GOP-led federal government. We have also seen citizens and residents in all corners of our nation mounting a steady resistance against the erosion of progress made under the Obama administration. Progress toward better access to healthcare, environmental sustainability, deescalation of violence, and the recognition of human rights for all people living within and without our national borders.

Here at MedHum | Daily Dose we would like to hear from our readers about how your lives, your communities, and your research has changed since inauguration day. Do you have an idea for a post? Please send us a brief pitch — two or three sentences — to our series editor Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook at medhumdailydose@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Book Review: Phenomenology of Illness

twitterlogoBRReview by Niclas Hundahl.

When we think about the human body, what role does illness play? Should it be awarded only minor attention, given that it can be considered an “irregular” state, something that is out of the ordinary? No, argues Havi Carel in Phenomenology of Illness (Oxford University Press, 2016), we must study illness and the particular embodied experience it brings to those who fall ill. For “the experience of illness is a universal and substantial part of human existence” (1). She makes a distinction between disease, the scientific understanding of physiological dysfunction, and illness, how disease is experienced by the individual.  

30211747Havi Carel is professor of Philosophy at the University of Bristol. Having examined illness in much of her previous research, she wanted to bring the full force of phenomenology to bear on the concept, because scientific inquiry is not enough. To fully understand illness, we must see and examine it as lived experience. And what better method to use than phenomenology, the philosophy method most specialized in studying lived experience. Carel focuses on severe, chronic and life-changing ill health, because these have the ability to permanently change how we experience the world, and therefore can reveal much about how we experience the world before illness. Continue reading “Book Review: Phenomenology of Illness”

Book Review: Are You Here For What I’m Here For?

twitterlogoBRReview by Lisa Spieker.

Brian Booker’s debut novel, Are You Here For What I’m Here For? (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016), leaves the reader with a feeling of vague unease. In seven stories, dislocated and troubled characters suffer from rare illnesses, illnesses that remain mostly unnamed and are quite possibly imagined. Even the most mundane of these afflictions are transformed in the characters’ minds until they take on the uncanny quality and significance that everyday objects acquire in fever dreams: Warts on the hands may evolve into rudimentary eyes. Sneezing will have you put into quarantine, possibly for several years. Unrelenting rain causes moods to fester and “a perilous loosening in the delicate structures of the mind” (190).

27135745Booker’s stories are populated by characters and are set in places that at first seem realistic, but turn out to be just a little off; not much, just enough to set you on edge. There are tramps obsessed with the numerology of dreams, a resort guest with “the air of a ruined southern belle” (87), and an obnoxious harbinger of doom. Some stories are set in spaces of otherness, heterotopias that exist in parallel or on the fringes of society and reality. In “Love Trip,” a teenage boy is sent to a boarding school with all the trappings of a New Age cult inspired by the antipsychiatry movement. Pressured to reveal the secret motivations for mentally unbalanced acts he never quite committed, to give up “the lie behind the lie” (241), the boy elaborately describes an invented childhood trauma but becomes increasingly unsure whether he really made it all up. In the story, “A Drowning Accident,” a boy is send to recover from a mysterious sleeping sickness in an East Coast resort reminiscent of the run-down Coney Island freak show in Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things. There, “twice daily in the summer [a deep-sea] net was raised from “The Living Gulfs of Doom,” and whatever cold-blooded monstrosities chanced to have been trapped in that abysmal region were dumped on the planks[…], displayed for all to see” (58). Continue reading “Book Review: Are You Here For What I’m Here For?”