Alberti’s intriguing study traces the changing images of the spine, skin, heart, and brain over time, and asks, in this era of medical specialization, if we can see ourselves as more than the sum of our parts. Yet each part tells a distinct story of what it means to be human, and Alberti explores the physical experience of embodiment, the social uses of the body, and the metaphorical senses of “gut feelings.” Our relationships to the heart and brain are especially complex; both have been considered the seat of the soul, and heart transplants still prompt uneasiness about what happens to the donor’s feelings, while brain transplantation is nearly unthinkable.
Shah’s survey of endemic and emerging diseases doesn’t name the Zika virus, but it tells us much we need to know about it. Delving into the past to explain the present and prepare for the future, Shah outlines how pathogens and humans have influenced each other’s evolution, and she reconstructs the path of one virus in particular, the Vibrio cholerae. Cholera erupted in the Sundarbans in 1817 and soon ravaged places including Montreal, Venice, and New York City. Once thought eradicated, it has reemerged, and Shah uses its profile to illuminate the similar trajectories of Ebola, SARS, MURS, and others.
In On Immunity the brilliant Eula Biss explores the metaphors pervading our discussions about illness, immunity, and health. Biss draws on medical history, literature, popular culture, and recent medical research to suggest that our aversion to vaccinations speaks to our desire for personal purity and our fears about industrialization. She argues elegantly for the perspective that our bodies are permeable, interconnected, and drawn toward a common fate. This book is a potent antidote to the undeniably ubiquitous paranoia of post-industrial life.