The failure of ‘democratized’ health care, and parasites on parade: Books in brief

Write Gaia book cover.

Write Gaia

Reds Bruce Clarke and Sébastien Dutreuil Cambridge Univ. Pressure (2022)

In 1966, the independent scientist James Lovelock proposed that the Earth’s climate and the chemistry of its surface, air and seas “co-evolved with life to provide optimal conditions for its survival”. Beginning in 1972, he and evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis developed this concept into the Gaia hypothesis. Their transatlantic correspondence appears in this illuminating book, edited by historians Bruce Clarke and Sébastien Dutreuil. At the time, the idea had little support from Earth and life scientists; now celebrities in the field contribute essays of support.

The Doctor Who Wasn't There book cover.

The Doctor Who Wasn’t There

Jeremy A. Greene Univ. Chicago Press (2022)

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, doctor Jeremy Greene converted his clinic to telemedicine, with mixed results. He became curious about the medical history of communication technology such as the telephone, which was invented in 1876. The 1910 ‘telephone stethoscope’ was praised for monitoring hearts, lungs and stomach. Yet it was of no use to the many patients who even decades later did not have a telephone. This lively, highly readable but US-focused history describes how many other technologies have tried to “democratize access to healthcare”.

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Códice Maya de México book cover.

Códice Maya de México

Ed. Andrew D. Turner Getty Research Inst. (2022)

Only four Maya books survived the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica. Three are in Europe and were the key to deciphering Mayan glyphs. The fourth, discovered in the 1960s, remains in Mexico. Its authenticity was debated until 2018, when examination of its colors, particularly ‘Mayan blue’, established it as the oldest surviving book from the Americas, from around 1100. Archaeologist Andrew Turner and contributors provide a fascinating analysis of this science and the book’s supernatural content — predictions based on Venus’ movements — with a vivid facsimile.

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Parasites book cover.

Parasites

Scott L. Gardner et al. Princeton Univ. Pressure (2022)

Parasite originally meant ‘next to food’ but later came to mean sitting next to a host to get free food. Now it describes a long-term relationship between species, in which the parasite benefits and the host is harmed, although in practice the latter varies from “lethal effects” to “some benefits”, note parasitologists Scott Gardner and Gabor Rácz, and parrot specialist Judy Diamond . Their global study, illustrated by Brenda Lee, focuses on three abundant types of parasites – nematodes, flatworms and hookworms.

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Pandemic Divide book cover.

The pandemic divide

Ed. Gwendolyn L. Wright et al. Duke Univ. Pressure (2022)

American black and Latinx populations are experiencing illness and death from COVID-19 at a higher rate and earlier age than the national average. “COVID-19 has pulled back the curtain on the extent of racialized inequality in the United States,” notes the foreword to this disturbing but proactive collection of articles by 27 American academics from many fields. So did George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Both events highlight inequality stemming from discrimination in health care, policing, education, employment, housing and credit markets.

Competing interests

The author declares no competing interests.

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