An Eye for a High

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The days when LSD made headlines as ‘The Most Dangerous Thing Since the Atom Bomb’ are long gone; now we’re in a ‘Psychedelic Renaissance’, with Prince Harry drinking ayahuasca tea and Mike Tyson evangelising for Sonoran toad venom. Big Pharma is seeking to patent strains of psilocybin and Wall Street is taking an interest, with […]

Two’s Company

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with twins more than thirty years ago, my doctor described identical twins, or monozygotes, as ‘a freak of nature which can happen to anyone’. Fraternal twins, by contrast, tend to run in families, or be the result of fertility treatment or the mother being older than I then was. […]

In the Beginning was the Womb

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

We are endlessly fascinated by nature documentaries revealing the remarkable behaviour of the animals that share our planet. And yet most of us know strikingly little about the evolution of our own species and, specifically, almost nothing about how men and women evolved differently. An evolutionary scientist and writer, Cat Bohannon has set out to put matters right with this punchy and utterly compelling book, which not

Hope Dies Last

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Philosophia (‘love of wisdom’) began in the sixth century BC as speculation on the nature of the cosmos. The questions that the early philosophers formulated, and the conceptual frameworks they created for answering them, engendered what we now call the sciences. These soon split off from philosophy; a few years ago, Stephen Hawking announced (to […]

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In With the Ink Crowd

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Most of us will be unaware that part of the painter Lucian Freud’s repertoire was the ability to ink skin. Apparently he acquired this skill during his time in the navy. In 2002 he even tattooed the supermodel Kate Moss. The swallows he tattooed onto her lower back were a token of their friendship. The […]

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Life’s Building Blocks

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Drug Victory!’ ‘Cancer Defeated!’ ‘Breakthrough Discovery!’ Modern headlines sound like wartime dispatches from the frontline, as if doctors were spearheading a conquering army. Medical researchers have not always enjoyed such heroic status: in the middle of the 19th century, a statue of Edward Jenner – pioneer in the creation of a smallpox vaccine – was […]

Statues of Limitations

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Circe was the sorceress who transformed men into swine in Homer’s Odyssey. Fast-forward seven hundred years or so and in Ovid’s Metamorphoses she is back to her old tricks, her target this time a young nymph named Scylla who has won the heart of a sea god, Glaucus, with whom Circe has fallen in love. […]

Beyond the Manosphere

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

These are confusing times for boys and men. On the one hand, they stand accused of unjustly possessing all kinds of power – social, political, physical and economic. The ‘patriarchy’ is often invoked as a sweeping shorthand to describe the apparently ineradicable oppression of women by men. On the other hand, as Richard Reeves demonstrates […]

Meeting of Minds

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There is a well-attested connection between being a good doctor and being a good writer (think Keats). Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm, published in 2014, achieved unlikely but deserved success, and among his many praiseworthy qualities is the ability to write elegant, unpretentious prose. In this and his subsequent book, Admissions (2017), he explored the human brain from the vantage point of the practising surgeon. Now retired from practice in the

Character Forming

Posted on by David Gelber

What’s Your Type? takes us back to 20th-century attempts at personality definition. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was used extensively for this purpose, mainly by corporations seeking to recruit staff of the most suitable calibre. Its progenitor was Katharine Cook, born in 1875 in Michigan. She was unprepossessing as a child, with thick glasses and […]

Life after Memory

Posted on by David Gelber

A clear sign that Shakespeare’s Gertrude is unmoved by her husband’s death is how facilely philosophical she is about it. ‘Thou know’st ’tis common all that live must die,’ she declaims to the grieving Hamlet. ‘Why seems it so particular with thee?’ For Nicci Gerrard, her beloved father’s decline into dementia and his eventual death are […]

Physician, Enrich Thyself

Posted on by David Gelber

Medicine has lost its mojo. To be sure, the technological ingenuity of keyhole surgery is amazing, the previously inconceivable (in vitro fertilisation, curing childhood cancer) is now routine and every year tens of thousands of people previously doomed to blindness by cataracts or being crippled by arthritis have their sight or mobility restored. Yet for […]

Facing the Void

Posted on by Tom Fleming

When my husband’s father was admitted to hospital with lung cancer in 1974, his doctors made no attempt to tell his family that the condition was terminal. His death came as a complete shock to his wife and her two teenage children – my husband, then eighteen, and his younger sister. Five years ago, when […]

Prescription Pushers

Posted on by Tom Fleming

James Le Fanu is our most incisive medical journalist, and in his excellent new book he turns his attention to the dangerous and expensive phenomenon of overprescribing. We have long passed the stage when there was a pill for every ill: we have progressed to the stage when there is an ill for every pill. […]

Trip Advisors

Posted on by Tom Fleming

For better or worse, Albert Hofmann has a lot to answer for. It was Hofmann, a chemist working for Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, who in 1943, in search of a respiratory and circulatory stimulant, inadvertently hit upon a substance called lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. Accidentally ingesting some of the substance

Priming the Pump

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The first time Stephen Westaby witnessed a heart operation, he was an eighteen-year-old medical student hiding in an abandoned observation gallery above the operating theatre. The patient, a young woman, died amid a torrent of blood. Despite, or because of, this traumatic introduction, Westaby went on to dedicate his life to open-heart surgery, performing daring […]

Sweetness & Blight

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If ever a book were suited to the new year, a time for fresh starts, it’s this one – the meaty ‘argument for the prosecution’, as Gary Taubes puts it, in a theoretical trial at which sugar stands accused of being ‘the principal cause of the chronic diseases … most likely to kill us’. Taubes, […]

Meme Streak

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Daniel Dennett has decided that the mind is less like a computer than he had previously imagined. Instead, the Darwinian philosopher suspects that the brain may be even more Darwinian than he had supposed. The constituent elements of a computer have no individual interests and are not in competition. They encounter no risks or opportunities. […]

Knowing Me, Knowing You

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Without God’, said Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov, ‘everything is permitted.’ For some psychologists, says Paul Bloom, ‘without God’ should be replaced by ‘without empathy’. What else, in the absence of religious faith, and given our postmodern scepticism about how reasonable ‘reason’ is, could curb our wild

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Bathroom Safari

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The first book I ever reviewed for Auberon Waugh (late of this parish) was entitled A Dictionary of Disgusting Facts, and he was thrilled because it coincided with his policy of getting the words ‘Sex’ and ‘Filth’ onto the cover whenever possible. At that time I was working on a (still unfinished) cacademic treatise called […]

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