Featured Non-Fiction Books from the McNaughton Recreational Reading Collection

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution (Norton & Co 2014) Jonathan Eig LAW-McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) RG137.5.E34 2014

Margaret Sanger (1879-1996), a wily, independent feminist and sex educator who kept her own apartment after marrying oil tycoon James Noah Slee in 1922, was a lifelong advocate for giving women the ability to enjoy sex without the worry of pregnancy. Eig opens in 1950 with Sanger, “an old woman who loved sex,” looking to science for a contraceptive that women could control (unlike the condom) and that was extremely effective (unlike the diaphragm). She sought out Gregory Pincus (1903-1967), a former Harvard University biologist denied tenure and pilloried in the press as a “Victor Frankenstein” for his efforts to mate rabbits in a petri dish, experiments that were the forerunners to in vitro fertilization. With starter funding from Sanger, Pincus developed a hormone treatment for rabbits and rats that prevented ovulation, and Sanger enlisted philanthropist and suffragist Katharine McCormick (1875-1967) to fund Pincus’ development of a similar hormone treatment to do the same for women. Gynecologist John Rock (1890-1984), the fourth “crusader,” teamed with Pincus on his research; by the mid-1950s, they developed a working trial of what is now universally known as “the pill.” Throughout the book, Eig displays a readable, contemporary style as he chronicles a similar clash of scientific and social progress as Thomas Maier’s Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Master and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love (2009). A well-paced, page-turning popular history featuring a lively, character-driven blend of scientific discovery and gender politics.” (Review from Kirkus Reviews)

On Immunity: An Inoculation (Greywolf Press 2014) Eula Biss LAW-McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) RA638.B57 2014

The fears surrounding vaccines are not late-breaking news, as the author notes in this literate, rangy foray into the history and consequences of vaccination. In the 18th century—and frankly, a little less today—it was understandable to associate vaccination with the work of witches: “The idea…that pus from a sick cow can be scraped into a wound on a person and make that person immune to a deadly disease is almost as hard to believe now as it was in 1796.” Indeed, the idea of poking yourself with a dose of virulent organisms to save yourself from them is not an intuitive leap. Eula Biss tracks the progress of immunization: as metaphor—the protective impulse to make our children invulnerable (Achilles, Oedipus); as theory and science (the author provides a superb explanation of herd immunity: “when enough people are vaccinated with even a relatively ineffective vaccine, viruses have trouble moving from host to host and cease to spread”); as a cash cow for big pharma; and as a class issue—the notion of the innocent and the pure being violated by vaccinations, that “people without good living standards need vaccines, whereas vaccines would only clog up the more refined systems of middle-class and upper-class people.” Biss also administers a thoughtful, withering critique to more recent fears of vaccines—the toxins they carry, from mercury to formaldehyde, and accusations of their role in causing autism. The author keeps the debate lively and surprising, touching on Rachel Carson here and “Dr. Bob” there. She also includes her father’s wise counsel, which accommodates the many sides of the topic but arrives at a clear point of view: Vaccinate. Brightly informative, giving readers a sturdy platform from which to conduct their own research and take personal responsibility. (Review from Kirkus Book Review)

Tags: ,