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in which the author discusses five books he’d read, if time permitted.
1. The Making of Modern Medicine: Turning Points in the Treatment of Disease, by Michael Bliss.
I once heard that the increase in life expectancy in the 20th century was entirely attributable to doctors washing their hands before operating on patients. If this is true, it means that medical science didn’t accomplish much in the 1900s, or that doctor’s hands are really, really dirty. Either way, guys in lab coats aren’t coming into the 21st century with a very good reputation, unless they are the band Clinic.
2. The Cardboard Valise, by Ben Katchor.
I often write about how I don’t read comic books (sorry—-graphic novels), but then I always stumble upon one that seems interesting. I still don’t read it, but I like to write about it. Case in point: The Cardboard Valise. This graphic novel is about a dude who travels the world and has surrealistic adventures. I know—-that sounds like Hunter S. Thompson or something, but this seems to be more highbrow, possible because Michael Chabon calls Ben Katchor, its author, “the creator of the last great American comic strip,” which I guess means that Chabon’s no fan of “Cathy” like the rest of us here at the office eating an entire Whitman’s Sampler over the course of a 10-hour shift.
3. Open City: A Novel, by Teju Cole.
A Nigerian dude wanders around Manhattan thinking about stuff. I like the concept, but the movie’s gonna have to have more bikini girls.
4. Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us, by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko.
When world collides, shit hits the fan. For example, on Battlestar Galactica starring Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, human beings invented cylons—-sentient machines. But eventually, the cylons were like, “We’re tired of being your slaves. We want to go have our own civilization elsewhere.” And then, about 40 years later, cylons almost destroyed the human race. So it’s fair to say that both sides were radicialized—-cylons by their realization that human beings, their creators, were actually the Other, and human beings by their understanding that the cylons, their creations, were actually the Other. It just goes to show you that, in this life, whether you are flesh and blood or a sentient machine, it’s probably best to try to fit in. When everyone orders a Diet Coke, you should order Diet Coke too. If you’re in a band that plays techno, don’t bring a guitar to practice. If someone says they like the Marx Brothers, don’t say that you prefer the Three Stooges. It’s better to stay alive than to insist that Moe is funnier than Zeppo.