Shining a light on death
As technology and medicine advance, the most basic of biological phenomena can be revisited, questioned, and altered. Haider Warraich, a cardiology fellow at Duke University Medical Center, is particularly interested in the endgame—death—and his new book, Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life (St. Martin's Press), explores the process of dying and its symbolic importance. Here he shares the impetus behind his interest.
THE PATIENT WAS A LANKY YOUNG MAN, his feet dangling from the gurney, with his father and his fiancée standing beside him. He had overdosed on heroin and now had a breathing machine helping him breathe. He was in a state somewhere between life and death. I was the youngest person in the room, a physician in training, but everyone looked to me for the answers.
Many of the encounters that leave an indelible mark on physicians end with the patient passing away. Almost on a daily basis, I find myself talking to patients and family members with little if any idea about what the end of life looks like.
Similarly, while I had been trained to do everything I could to avert death, and I knew all the boxes I needed to check when death was imminent for a patient, and even though I was exposed to death all the time, at that moment I was struck by how little I knew about the greater context of how death and dying have evolved. They’ve changed so much in such a brief time that we have barely had a chance to absorb these changes as a species.
In Justice by Another Name (RaneCoat Press), E.C. Hanes ’67 continues his novelizing of North Carolina fodder, this time exploring the controversial hog industry and small-town politics in the eastern part of the state.
Scott Savitt ’85 began his time in Beijing as an exchange student; at the turn of the century, he had been arrested and deported. In Crashing the Party: An American Reporter in China (Soft Skull Press), Savitt details the story of those intervening years, during which he had a front-row seat for the events of Tiananmen Square and the larger democratic movement in China.
Caroline E. Light ’91, in Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense (Beacon Press), delineates the factors underlying the modern concept of “do-it-yourself ” security: historical ideas of race and gender that span from the Colonial era to the Civil War, from Reconstruction to Trayvon Martin.
The 1955 story of Emmett Till, a fourteen- year-old who was lynched for his interaction with a white female storekeeper, is an archetypal case of racial injustice. In The Blood of Emmett Till (Simon & Schuster), Timothy Tyson Ph.D. ’94, a senior research scholar at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, explores the history behind the fateful encounter, the lynching and subsequent trial, and how it relates to modern-day movements.
Health care is expensive. Discovering and designing new drugs is especially so, with an estimated cost ballooning above $1 billion each. In A Prescription for Change: The Looming Crisis in Drug Development (UNC Press), Michael Kinch Ph.D. ’93 explores the evolution of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries and outlines how the industries’ productivity might be sustained in the face of both rising costs and public pressure.
What’s your nightstand reading, Brad Snyder?
Snyder ’94, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin and the recent author of The House of Truth: A Washington Political Salon and the Foundations of American Liberalism (Oxford University Press), is appreciative of nonfiction and historical fiction alike.
My late mentor Raymond Gavins and other Duke historians taught me how to research and write history and gave me an enduring appreciation for narrative, especially about the African-American struggle for equality. As much as I loved Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, I was even more captivated by James McBride’s novel The Good Lord Bird. McBride’s book is Faulknerian in the way it bends time and combines ideas about race, gender, and slavery with a sly sense of humor.
Another great book reads like fiction but was a true story: Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove. King explores the case of four young black men accused of raping a seventeen- year-old white woman in 1949 in Groveland, Florida. Thurgood Marshall, then a lawyer, took the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ordered a new trial. The Court, however, was no match for the Southern justice of that era and for the town’s racist sheriff. Devil in the Grove confirms why in 1977 the Court outlawed the death penalty for rape.
Finally, I read the manuscript of a forthcoming book likely to be of interest during the next Supreme Court nomination hearings: Laura Kalman’s The Long Reach of the Sixties: LBJ, Nixon, and the Making of the Contemporary Supreme Court. Kalman explores Johnson’s and Nixon’s Supreme Court nomination process and argues that more nominees should come from outside the judiciary.